Dr. John Whalley (’69, MD ’73, P ’06) celebrated 50 years of practicing pediatric medicine — including numerous trips abroad as a medical missionary — by traveling around the world to treat Roma children in Romania last fall.
“Seeing a smile on their faces was just very rewarding,” says Whalley, who spent a week on a medical mission trip in Săcueni, a small town near the Hungarian border. He and a physician assistant treated about 200 Roma children and about 100 adults. Most of the children were healthy, but almost all had tooth decay.
As Whalley notes, the Roma people have a long history of being oppressed. Unicef has said the Roma population, which constitutes one of the largest ethnic minorities in Europe, “continues to experience among the highest levels of poverty and social exclusion, as well as active discrimination.”
Whalley, 76, has a heart for mission work and has been sharing his medical knowledge and faith with people in other countries since the 1980s. He’s been on numerous mission trips to India, Kenya, Guatemala and Ukraine through Baptists on Mission (previously known as North Carolina Baptist Men), affiliated with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina. He and his wife, Nancy Whalley (P ’06), live in Morganton, North Carolina.
Whalley has been a “tremendous volunteer,” says Richard Brunson, director of Baptists on Mission. He’s been involved in disaster relief, medical/dental missions in the United States and abroad, serving underserved people and communities through wellness clinics, and serving as vice president on the Baptists on Mission board, Brunson said.
“The thing that I most appreciate about John is how he serves people and how he takes a personal interest in people,” Brunson says. “He is very gifted and very humble.”
Whalley has been to Ukraine twice, including shortly after the Russian invasion in February 2022, when he spent 10 days in western Ukraine treating internally displaced persons. “These were women and children who came in from the east, a very arduous journey, a three- or four-day train ride coupled with buses and vans and whatnot,” he says. “We provided post-traumatic mental health counseling and cared for acute problems as well as refilling medications they were taking before they abandoned their homes.
“The stories they told were heart-wrenching, but we wanted them to tell their stories as part of the healing process,” Whalley says. “Some of them were so horrendous that you almost didn’t believe them. The stories would take your breath away. What does someone say to a child who wakes up to find his mother cannot wake up?”
Whalley’s first trip to Ukraine was in the late 1990s. His daughter, Lara Whalley Arredondo (’06), who was in high school, went with him to a village about 30 miles from the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant. She took patients’ vital signs, helped out around the clinic and, in the afternoons, played soccer with local kids. She grew up to become a pediatric nurse practitioner at Brenner Children’s Hospital at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist.
That trip with her dad inspired her own mission work, she says. She regularly travels with colleagues to the Dominican Republic to perform ear, nose and throat surgeries. “It always inspired me to do the same with seeing how many people he helped,” she says of her father. “It’s a lot of work, but it fills the heart.”
Whalley knew he wanted to become a doctor when he came to Wake Forest from his native New Jersey. “I chose Wake Forest because of academic excellence and Pro Humanitate,” he says. “I was the first to enter college in my family, and sharing that opportunity and being in service to others was and still is a ‘North Star’ and reflects my Christian faith.”
After graduating from what was then the Bowman Gray School of Medicine, he completed his pediatric training at the University of Kentucky. He settled in Morganton, about an hour and a half west of Winston-Salem, and co-founded Mountain View Pediatrics in 1985. He retired from the practice in 2014.
He went on his first medical mission trip in the 1980s to Northern India in the Western Himalayas in a disputed area near the border with Pakistan. “The families would come from as far away as they could walk,” he recalls. “They really hadn’t seen a physician in maybe nine months because of the winter snows.”
In Kenya during the late 1980s, he experienced the worst of the AIDS epidemic. “I saw so many children who were completely orphaned and saw the ravages of malaria,” he says. He’s made several trips to the Good Shepherd Center in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, to treat malnourished and abused, abandoned children.
Closer to home, Whalley is a cook on Baptists on Mission disaster relief teams and has volunteered in Texas, Louisiana and Ocracoke Island, North Carolina, following hurricanes. He credits his wife, Nancy, a retired Wake Forest Baptist Hospital nurse, for supporting his mission work.
“To be able to share God’s love sends a powerful message to all people, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you,’ either in a hospital bed in Winston or in a remote village somewhere else,”Whalley says. “We are blessed and can do no less.”