When Dr. John Wakelin operates on children in Third World countries, he’s more than a plastic surgeon. He’s a teacher, sharing surgical procedures with local nurses and physicians. He’s a volunteer, giving time to those in need. And he’s a role model, showing his son the value of service and giving.
“Sometimes, all it takes is one hour,” says Wakelin, referring to an operation that reconstructs the faces of children born with cleft lips. “What a gift it is to be able to transform a life in such a small amount of time.”
Mission and service work has always been on Wakelin’s agenda. He studied philosophy at Xavier on a full scholarshipas a service fellow. While completing his degree, Wakelin volunteered at a hospital, where he educated HIV positive patients about disease prevention.
Immediately after graduating in 1996, Wakelin went on to medical school where he learned about Operation Smile, an international charity organization that helps treat facial deformities like cleft lips and pallets.
Travelling to countries as far away as Peru and Honduras, Wakelin and thousands of other surgeons from Operation Smile attempt to create a long-lasting, sustainable impact on the communities. They focus on teaching local doctors surgical procedures that fix facial deformities, with the hope that the community will someday have a large enough team of professionally trained nurses and physicians.
When he’s not working medical missions, Wakelin keeps his schedule busy. In addition to being a father and husband, he’s a surgeon at Columbus Aesthetic and Plastic Surgery and is also part of Ohio State University’s clinical faculty.
And though Wakelin’s résumé gives him bragging rights—Sky magazine named him one of the best plastic surgeons in America and his fellow physicians voted him the top plastic surgeon in Columbus—he views himself as a link in the chain of greater good.
“I’m doing just a tiny bit of the work—Operation Smile is a huge team,” Wakelin says. “It just doesn’t come together without passionate and dedicated humans.”