Global Impact

Let There Be Hope for a Better FutureGary Parker in front of Africa Mercy

Kwanam, a middle-aged woman from a remote village in the northern part of the African country of Togo, made a very long journey to the port city of Lomé where she had heard a hospital ship was offering free surgeries. Among the thousands waiting to be examined, Kwanam sat far from everyone else in a failed attempt to hide the stench of her chronically infected flesh. Tumors the size of softballs hung from her neck and flies swarmed around a rag she used to cover her head. As she removed the cloth, Dr. Gary Parker saw an infected tumor, almost as large as her head. It was covered with a plastic bag in an endeavor to contain the pus and odor. 

Dr. Parker, DDS Class of 1977, is the Chief Medical Officer aboard Africa Mercy, a floating hospital ship under the Mercy Ships’ umbrella. Mercy Ships is a not-for-profit organization that provides free medical and dental services to impoverished countries. 

Following nearly 10 years of dental training at UCLA, which included a DDS degree and advanced training in hospital dentistry and oral and maxillofacial surgery, Dr. Parker went on to gain more surgical experience in the British National Health Service  (NHS) in the North Wales’ oral and maxillofacial surgical unit. He took a short hiatus from the NHS and what began as a six-month volunteer mission with Mercy Ships has now turned into a 27-year commitment. 

Since 1986, Parker has performed life-changing surgery on children and adults in more than 15 countries. Many of his patients suffer from congenital deformities like cleft lip and cleft palate. Other medical procedures he performs include removal of tumors and reconstruction after destructive infections.

It was for his career of selfless dedication helping those with congenital deformities, that Dr. Parker received the UCLA Medal – the university’s highest honor – during the 2014 Commencement Ceremony. 

Dr. Parker also gave the commencement address and delivered the following message to the hundreds of newly minted graduates and their friends and family. 

“I believe we reach significance when we define our personal success as adding value to the lives of others.”