An internationally-known facial surgeon initially decided to work on the world's largest civilian hospital ship on the west African coast "on a lark," described Scot Pelley of 60 Minutes on Sunday night, Feb. 17.
Dr. Gary Parker, a UCLA alum who lives in Pacific Palisades, is still there after 26 years, providing medical services such as dental care, cleft lip and palate repair, cataract removal and major plastic surgery and facial reconstruction. As the chief medical officer of Africa Mercy for the global non-profit Mercy Ships, Parker has continued volunteering, and even found his wife and raised his family living on the ship.
Parker, actually known as a maxillofacial surgeon (to treat numerous injuries and defects to the head, neck, face, jaws and tissues), and his staff bring 21st century medicine to some of the poorest people in the world.
In May 2012, Pelley and a team of 60 Minutes producers came onboard the Africa Mercy, The ship includes six state-of-the-art operating rooms, an intensive care unit, CT Scanner and bed space for up to 78 patients. During their stay, the 60 Minutes crew interviewed a variety of staff, crew and volunteers including Mercy Ships Founder/President Don Stephens, Parker and others. Additionally, the show captured the stories of several patients including those being treated for cataracts and maxilla-facial conditions.
"These are people that go out at night and forage for food and in the day, they hide," Parker told Pelley. "They can't go to the market. They certainly can't go to school. They are isolated."
Parker graduated in 1982 from the oral and maxillo-facial surgery training program at the University of California at Los Angeles Hospital and Medical Center. He was born in 1952 in Pacific Palisades, where he lived for 30 years.
Mercy Ships also trains local medical professionals in their area of expertise and completes community development projects that focus on water and sanitation, education, infrastructure development and agriculture. and has opted to the volunteerism after numerous job opportunities.
"We are thrilled to be sharing our story with a national audience," said Stephens. "Our hope is that everyone who watches our story will have a better understanding of our work, and will keep our mission in their thoughts and prayers."
For more information on Mercy Ships and how to volunteer, click here.