The Eye Surgery Ship

Most people go on cruises to take a vacation. Taking a cruise is about relaxing, traveling around the world a bit, and not much else. However, there are several types of cruises that are taken for reasons that are unrelated to vacationing, like medical cruises. Medical cruises often focus on educating medical professionals (with on-board conferences, meetings, etc.), but at least a few different cruise ships offer voyages that focus on some form of patient care. A prime example of this latter type of cruise is an eye surgery cruise. As far as our research suggests, there has only been one eye surgery cruise ship, and the ship appears to have ceased functioning many years ago, but the story of the eye surgery ship and the man behind it is extraordinary and inspiring. The eye surgery ship may no longer be taking passengers, but the mere fact that is ever existed is an awesome example of two seemingly unrelated things – eye surgery and cruise ships – coming together for the sake of good.

At the center of the story of the eye surgery ship was Svyatoslav Fyodorov, a world-famous Russian ophthalmologist. Born in the Ukraine, Fyodorov originally attended an aviation school, but after he lost his foot in an accident, he switched directions and decided to attend Rostov Medical Institute. Since early in his career Fyodorov was focused on eyes. After finishing medical school, he served as the head of an eye disease division that was part of a state institute. In 1960, only a couple of years out of school, he developed an artificial lens and performed the first-ever surgery to implant an artificial lens.

Over the course of the next few decades, Fyodorov would become a leading eye surgeon. He advanced to higher positions in the medical field while ceaselessly performing new and innovative eye surgeries, as well as inventing techniques and tools for the same. Fyodorov’s influence would spread as he opened up clinics all over Russia and abroad (in places like Italy, Germany, Spain, and the United Arab Emirates).

One of these clinics happened to be on a large ship, called “Peter I.” The ship had to be converted into a clinic, so it was not built for Fyodorov’s eye surgeries originally. Fyodorov believed that all people (regardless of their geographical placement or access to health care) deserved healthy sight, and Peter I, which sailed around the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans, helped Fyodorov work toward his goal.

Even though the ship often stayed at a port for as little a as few months, the floating clinic, which operated with the help of 60 ophthalmologists, made use of its time. The ship was stationed in the United Arab Emirates from October 1989 to April 1990, and during this relatively brief time 15,000 patients (from over 45 countries) were examined and 7,500 complex operations were performed on board the ship. The ship then moved on to a different port to serve the same function. Overall, over 21,000 operations were performed on board the ship at ports in countries like Yemen, Gibraltar, and Cyprus. The eye surgery cruise brought excellent medical services to parts of the world that would otherwise lack it.

As the eye surgery ship shows, not all large ships that carry people around the globe are for cruise vacations. Because of their size and maneuverability, cruise ships can be enlisted for any number of different purposes, ranging from the trivial to the noble. The eye surgery ship, of course, falls on the latter end of this spectrum.

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