Pediatrician John Paschen lives by a couple of personal credos:

First, he strives to discover the extraordinary in the ordinary, finding joy in the deliberate attention to detail. Second, he says, if he sets a goal, “I keep going until I reach it.”

Both ideals have helped to shape his essence as a curious and compassionate husband, father, doctor, and human being. They’re his pillars at both work and play and underscore his commitment when he interacts with Operation of Hope’s most vulnerable patients.

John, 56, has participated in four OOH missions — all in Zimbabwe — “just doing what’s needed,” he says. He works tirelessly in the screening clinic, speaking to worried and hopeful family members about their children’s health issues — weighing, measuring, and examining the potential patients appealing for a life-changing surgery. He staffs the post-operative ward to ease patient recovery via his calm, empathetic care. And sometimes in the afternoons he visits other departments in the hospital, usually the newborn ICU, to share information and expertise with the medical staff who are handling the hospital’s tiniest complicated cases.

Whether he’s treating patients in Harare or back home in Ames, Iowa, where he’s been practicing for 26 years, he holds himself to the highest standard. “Unless it’s your absolute best,” he says, “it’s not good enough.”

OOH volunteers, he says, observe this principle. “They do great work and know how to operate within the available parameters, working with what they have. I’ve been on other mission trips where they’ve done cleft lip and palate, and they don’t do as near as good a job. With Operation of Hope, the patients are getting top-notch facial plastics.”

And the reaction of the families to the surgeons’ skill isn’t lost on John: “The thing that strikes me each time I come here is the smile on the faces of the parents when they see their children, who’ve been considered deformed since birth. They’re just ecstatic.”

John Paschen

Like many Operation of Hope volunteers, John plays as hard as he works. On weekends when he’s off-duty, you might find John at his family’s rural property in eastern Iowa, laboring on a dairy barn — 144 feet long, built in 1921 — that he’s bringing back to life. And for the last three years he has been restoring a very special vehicle: “I used to be a Harley rider and restorer, but a couple of years ago I switched over to Volkswagens,” he says.“I have an old van, a split-windshield one from 1966, and I hope to have it road-worthy soon.”

John also enjoys knitting, but he doesn’t buy his wool from the store like everyone else. He comes upon it naturally: “First,” he says, “you shear the lamb so it’s all wool, no skin. Then you take pieces of that and spin it on a wheel. Then when you get enough spools, you combine two threads to make a full yarn, and you make it into a skein.” He says he knit a cardigan sweater for his wife when she was pregnant with the couple’s first child. “I still wear it, every winter,” he says. “It’s strong and smells a little bit like a sheep.”

To John, it isn’t just a simple pastime. Knitting — like volunteering with Operation of Hope — is a nod toward world peace. “Gandhi said that if everyone in the world spun for an hour every day, there would be no wars,” he says.


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