Gary L. Baker, M.D., jokes that his first plastic surgery patient was a 1956 Corvette. The plastic surgeon who today practices in Overland Park, Kan., had great success with that particular patient, restoring it to the shape and luster that it had when it rolled off the assembly line.
Gary L. Baker, M.D. Medical School: Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri
Not exactly a model teenager
Growing up in a rural Nebraska working class neighborhood in South Omaha, Dr. Baker, admittedly, was a bad student. He got Cs and Ds in high school and was thrown out of school six times, he says.
"I did not know what studying was, and my parents were nice people but they did not ever ask if I did my homework or studied," he says. "I even had some 'behavioral problems,' in the sense that I was excused from school several times for things like being too vocal and fighting with other kids." He remembers one instance in which his mother waited to get him from the school counseling office after he had gotten into a fight.
"She had this look of total disgust — like this is unsalvageable," Dr. Baker says. "Then we went home and she never really talked to me about it after that."
Under all that rebellion was a budding entrepreneur. Dr. Baker had owned about five cars before age 16. He would buy cars from the 1950s, which were ready to go to the scrap heap, for $25 or $50 and restore them, selling them at a profit.
His father, a construction worker, was also a mechanic of sorts. Dr. Baker would use his tools and take his advice when it came to cars.
"The thing that was nice is that I remember that being the first time I was able to connect with him," Dr. Baker says. "(My father) would give me information, but would not necessarily interfere. I think from a distance, he was mildly amused. I was turning into an entrepreneur."
In 1969, he saw an ad in the newspaper for a 1956 Corvette. He paid $800 for the car, although it was not running.
"It was a rare car, sitting on a farm about 50 miles from where I lived, and it had a chicken living in the front seat," he says.
The car became Dr. Baker's focus. His goal was to restore it to what it looked like when it was brand new.
"I did not know exactly where to begin, so I started by taking it totally apart," he says.
Dr. Baker hardly ever drove the car. It was not for driving, he says, it was for restoring. Instead, he remembers driving a '61 Chevy station wagon — one he painted with a paintbrush "...which probably explains why I never had a girlfriend," he says.
He worked on and off on that car for eight years and still owns it today. Dr. Baker says he got the ability to focus and carry a project through from working on the Corvette. He would have to fabricate parts that were no longer available. He would track down anything that was available.
"And as a result of that experience, in retrospect, I kind of think that is what plastic surgery is. Only at the time, I did not know that," he says.
School becomes a focus
Dr. Baker put himself through college and got an engineering degree at the University of Nebraska. The car took a back seat to his schooling.