Oakland pediatrician John Pescetti removes tattoos and changes lives.

Volunteers: Getting Under Their Skin


John Pescetti

Pat Mazzera

Pediatrician John Pescetti of Oakland keeps a quote from the Oath of Maimonides on his office wall: “May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.”

At Project New Start, Pescetti sees patients who are in intense physical pain as he removes their tattoos. But he loves providing this service for youth trying to change their lives.

“It really is a kind of pure sense of helping somebody,” Pescetti says about his volunteer work with Project New Start, tattoo removal program offered through La Clínica health clinic. “The patient is just somebody who needs some help, and we have the knowledge and skills to help them. It’s close to unconditional love in a way.”

Getting a tattoo taken off is more painful than getting one, Pescetti says. It’s also a long process, taking multiple treatments to laser the image off the skin. Since clients need to wait at least six weeks between sessions, they often come to the clinic over a period of several years.

“We’re kind of a witness to their journey,” Pescetti says. “It’s a privilege to watch people make that kind of commitment.”

Adriana Alvarez, who runs Project New Start, which provides workshops and mentoring along with tattoo removal, says she approached Pescetti, then the medical director of La Ciínica de la Raza, because of the large number of Spanish-speaking clients who wanted tattoos removed.

“He was on board in five minutes—that’s how easy it was,” she says. “He’s managed to draw in other physicians and nurse practitioners and broaden the scope of providers.

“He’s really generous with his time and [is] not the kind of physician who wants the glory and the name. I’ve never seen John say no to anything. It’s an ideal partnership.”

Pescetti, 62, has followed slightly circuitous career on his journey to Oakland. He worked as a pediatric nurse before going to medical school at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University at 35. His wife lobbied for Oakland for Pescetti’s residency as well as the community for raising their two young children. He landed at Children’s Hospital & Research Center, Oakland.

“It had a very strong emphasis on community pediatrics and taking care of kids with chronic illnesses,” he says. “That appealed to my sense of social justice.”

This kind of commitment is what makes Pescetti so wonderful to work with, Alvarado says. “He’s a great guy and an excellent physician,” she says. “He couldn’t really be as giving as he is if didn’t have both those assets.”

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