TODAY   |  December 17, 2013

Two vets bring ‘Flying Eye Hospital’ to those in need

Two Vietnam war veterans came out of retirement as airline mechanics to work on the “Flying Eye Hospital,” an ophthalmic hospital and teaching facility on a plane that travels around the world providing assistance to countries in need. Jane Pauley presents the “Life Reimagined TODAY” segment.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> jane pauley has been working with aarp which has produced and sponsored a series of reports for us. an ja and jane is here again this morning.

>> teenagers when they met at vocational school in montana, rich and john, have a lot of shared history. raised on ranches, served in vietnam, and both retired united airlines flight mechanics . which was just the beginning of the sorry of two lives reimagined.

>> reporter: a dc 10 arrives in central africa . john and rich go right to work. setting up a hospital. with wings.

>> there are millions of people on the earth that are blind that don't have to be blind. a 15 minute surgery can cure them. so we need to train the doctors. and that's what we do.

>> reporter: it's a nonprofit serving 92 countries. a 30 year partnership between medicine and aviation.

>> this here is one of the first dc 10s ever built.

>> reporter: a one of a kind flying eye hospital is getting an annual checkup in indianapolis. the passenger compartment becomes a classroom where doctors and nurses watch and learn while a surgical procedure is live-streamed from the o.r..

>> what i need to do is to put these under --

>> reporter: it's a teaching hospital . john and rich, flight mechanics , make sure it all works.

>> john and i grew up on a ranch. something broke, you had to fix it. we learned that when we were eight years old. you had to be a little creative sometimes.

>> who is the boss?

>> richard.

>> reporter: rich has seniority. the last 12 year, he's been to 63 countries.

>> what was it that had called to you about this job?

>> the adventure. it's exciting to be scared and going out and wandering all over the world is a little scary.

>> reporter: john got the call from rich.

>> we've been friends forever and i just thought he would like it. i didn't positithink he would come, though.

>> you were retired.

>> right.

>> reporter: john's retirement home , 13 acres with a panoramic view.

>> how deeply in your comfort zone were you?

>> i'd say too deep. just found myself saying yes. yes. yes. yes.

>> the next thing i knew, i was on an airplane heading for uganda.

>> how old were you?

>> well, that was five years ago and i just turned 69. and i'm still here.

>> reporter: it's hard work. and not easy to get.

>> a lot of people want to do this. but most of them can't.

>> why not?

>> people that haven't retired, they have a job. they can come out for a week, but not for a year. so pretty much you're stuck with old for example gis that don't have anything else to do.

>> could you keep doing this in your 70s?

>> i have an aunt that is 105 right now.

>> it's not hard physical work. it is mental work. it's a puzzle. i love puzzles. how do we fix this.

>> you guys know a dc 10 probably well enough to take it apart and put it back together again in.

>> without a doubt.

>> reporter: two old friends seeing the world. and looking at retirement differently.

>> it's time do something that you want to do.

>> i think it's the opportunity to help people. if you get the opportunity to help somebody that needs something, i think that's a blessing.

>> you can see?

>> yes.

>> unlike most of the staff who are volunteers, rich and john are on salary but if they were paid by the miles, they would both be rich. the reality check, this job could be hard on family ties. they will be spending christmas with the flying eye hospital in the philippines. matt, they have performed more than 23 million surgeries in 92 countries.

>> i loved when you asked them how far in your confident zone were you and he said i think too far. which was a great lesson for a lot of us. jane, thank you very