"During all my time as an active duty Marine, I never witnessed a more effective, more meaningful, nor more honorable initiative begun in the private sector of our great country.”
~ 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Amos (USMC Ret), May 9, 2019, Speaking of Operation Mend’s Surgical Program at the Henry M. Jackson Foundation Heroes of Military Medicine Awards Dinner
Even though we don’t see combat in the media in the headlines and on the news as much today, we still have to treat many of those veterans previously treated, as their need for surgeries has no time limit, and the change in their bodies over time requires surgeries that change with them. At Operation Mend, we have performed more than 20 surgeries on some individuals.
HISTORY: UCLA OPERATION MEND
In 2006, local businessman, UCLA graduate, and philanthropist, Ron Katz, and his wife Maddie, were watching Lou Dobbs interview a Marine Corporal speaking about the severe physical injuries he sustained in Iraq. His life had been saved, but he pointed to his face, and with his trademark positive and engaging spirit, said, “Now I have to fix the beautiful part. You know, getting back to good looking.” At that moment, Maddie Katz gazed at her husband and said, “Ronnie, we have to do something!” And they did.
Mr. Katz offered a solution. UCLA Health had a renowned reputation for facial plastics, a team of elite sub-specialty surgeons willing to work with veterans, and a world-class hospital.
But the military had never before allowed their active duty injured to be sent to civilian medical facilities. This changed when the Army Vice Chief of Staff, General Pete Chiarelli, and Commandant of the Marine Corp, General Jim Amos, personally engaged to ensure that our severely injured military members had access to the world-class expertise at UCLA Health.
In 2007, that same Marine from the Lou Dobbs interview, Corporal Aaron Mankin, became patient Number 1 at UCLA Health Operation Mend.
WHAT WE TREAT
Corporal Mankin has had over 40 surgeries since his amphibious assault vehicle was blown up in Iraq in 2005. Today, he still has to face more surgeries as his body changes. Aaron Mankin will tell you that Operation Mend changed his life. Many have told us that the surgeries performed at Operation Mend, make our warriors feel “more presentable in the community”, and less “scary” to their children, which has “saved their lives.” Even though the military may not consider this type of care “life-saving,” we are fortunate to have a different perspective. We know it is lifesaving.
For the military and veterans we treat, the psychological and functional impact of giving back people’s human expressions, and helping them to regain functionality of body parts and extremities like hands and fingers is “life-saving.” This is a common refrain for those most severely injured.
Operation Mend is state-of-the-art. One severely injured veteran we treated had a tourniquet on his arm for nearly eight hours while his life was being saved due to his massive chest injuries. His entire arm had zero movement, sensation, or function. Our expert team took a muscle from the veteran’s leg, surgically implanted it into his arm, took tendons from other parts of his body and attached those, as well as the many vessels leading from his arm to his hands and fingers. The functionality of his arm and had was restored.
Another veteran came to us after his hand was blown up in an IED blast. The DoD and VA told him that there was nothing they could do to help him regain the functionality of his hand. His hand would not open or move. Our world-renowned surgeons rebuilt his hand to give him functionality. Today, he is a truck driver and automobile racer.
ONE OF A KIND
Many of our warriors come to us after they have been told there is nothing more that can be done. This often happens many years after their injuries and after they leave the military. Veterans often live in pain for many years, thinking pain is the “new normal”. The psychological toll of living with excruciating pain, or without the functionality of a limb, or with a face that creates fear in their children that see is significant. The pain affects the veteran and their entire family. We see this in our program every single day.
No other program in the country provides this level of world-class treatment for our veterans with severe physical injuries. Last year we assessed, scheduled, coordinated, and delivered care for 122 individual warriors in need of advanced surgical services.
CONNECTION TO MENTAL HEALTH
Every day, our warriors tell us that their physical injuries, pain, and lack of functionality are at the center of everything in their lives. Many tell us that they cannot continue to live this way. We address these physical issues to relieve pain and suffering, and to rebuild features and functionality, which generally frees the warrior to address the underlying psychological issues that almost always exist. So, there is a very strong, direct, and necessary connection between our surgical program and the treatment of the invisible wounds of war.
HOW YOU CAN HELP
UCLA Operation Mend offers comprehensive psychological health and social support for wounded service members and their family members. There is no cost to patients, their families, or caregivers for these services, including their medical or mental health treatments, travel-related expenses, and lodging.
All funding for the care of these warriors and their families comes from the support of grateful Americans and donors. Thank you!
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