Bulgan With Orbis Nurse Leo

Bulgan Orgilsaikhan – How an Orbis Surgery Transformed a Future

April 2019

Twenty years ago in Mongolia there were no experts in tear duct surgeries, so when the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital announced a stop in the country, Bulgan’s eye doctor was quick to ask for their help. For the then 11-year-old and her family, this was a life-changing moment.

In 1997, when she was just 10 years old, Bulgan Orgilsaikhan was in a devastating car accident in her home country of Mongolia. Two of the little girl’s grandmothers were killed and her father, who was driving, was wracked with guilt. Bulgan survived, but the accident left her with extensive injuries, including damaged tear ducts.

Tears play a critical role in our eye health, helping to regularly clean the eye and flush out debris. Without working tear ducts, Bulgan faced a new reality that involved not only managing her grief from the accident, but also a strict regimen of cleaning out her tear ducts. Every second day, an eye doctor would inject a dull needle into her tear duct and clear out anything that had built up inside. It was a stressful and traumatic ritual and Bulgan recalls pressing on her eyes to try and push out the build-up, in the hopes she would not have to go to her next appointment.

Bulgan As Child 3

Twenty years ago in Mongolia there were no experts in tear duct surgeries, so when the Orbis Flying Eye Hospital announced a stop in the country, Bulgan’s eye doctor was quick to ask for their help. For the then 11-year-old and her family, this was a life-changing moment.

“To me, as a child, this was something magical,” she says of the experience now. She had been on a plane once before, but nothing like this, and she recalls how tall all the international doctors seemed, and how they spoke in many languages. She remembers a nurse named Leo, who she immediately bonded with, and how exciting everything seemed. She realizes now that the surgery she needed was likely a simple one for the experts on the plane, but she can’t express enough how it transformed her life.

“It’s not just someone having a surgery and the next day they’re gone. It leaves hope within that family, within that child.”

Bulgan Orgilsaikhan

Bulgan had already matured beyond her years by the time of the surgery. The extensive maintenance of her tear ducts, the teasing she’d received for her scars, and the emotional impact of losing her grandmothers all weighed on her. “I instantly became an adult,” she says of her experience after the crash.

And despite the fact that her father had been completely cleared—it was truly an accident—she knew that he felt incredible guilt for her injury and the deaths of his mother and grandmother. Bulgan’s successful surgery alleviated some of his guilt and also set her on the path that led her to where she is today.

Bulgan As Child 2 Resized

Once her eyes healed, she started to study hard and, at age 14, she was accepted to a student exchange in the United States. That experience prompted a desire to continue her education in North America. Back at home, she focused on learning English and exceling in school.

Bulgan As Child Resized

To earn acceptance to Toronto’s York University, she completed a Canadian high school diploma program online and improved her language skills (she speaks English, Russian and Mongolian). She has since gone on to have a successful career in the mining industry and she continues to give back to the Orbis community.

Bulgan As Adult

Bulgan has volunteered with two Orbis programs in Mongolia – in 2014 and 2018 – and continues to share her story at events in her current home in Canada and wherever she can around the world.

“I know what it’s like to be an 11-year-old child with a deformation of the eye, you lose your self-confidence and self-esteem. It doesn’t have to be children, whoever needs or gets inspired by my story, I would be happy if it’s helping them in some way, if it gives them courage.”

Bulgan Orgilsaikhan