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Healing the Wounds of War

Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center's "Operation Mend" helps heal the wounds of war


The full scope of the "Operation Mend" program, through which U.S. military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan receive reconstructive plastic surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, was spelled out at a December, 2007 meeting of Women & Philanthropy at UCLA. 

"This program is a testament to what we as a people can do," said Bea Mandel, then-chair of the UCLA support group, as she introduced philanthropists Maddie and Ron Katz, the visionaries who founded the "Operation Mend" collaborative pilot program between Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas. Ron is a Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center advisory board member.

"We were watching the Lou Dobbs show on CNN and saw Cpl. Aaron Mankin ['Operation Mend's' first patient], whose face was shattered, but who had such great spirit. He said he had about another year of surgeries until they could 'make him beautiful again' and I pretty much made up my mind that we had to do something." said Katz, who worked diligently to help bring together the two bureaucratic organizations.

Katz saw Mankin and dozens of his wounded compatriots at the opening of BAMC's Fisher House [a home-away-from-home for families of patients receiving medical care at major military and VA medical centers]. "I thought, 'I know that at UCLA we have this great gift-Dr. Tim Miller and his staff, with their incredible, innovative minds-and a plastic surgery department that is the ultimate leading edge,' and I thought there must be a way to pair this up."

"'Operation Mend' represents an extraordinary collaboration between the surgeons and staff of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center to deliver the best medical care in this country to our injured soldiers," said Amir Rubin, chief operating officer of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.  "The program started with Ron's vision, and continued with the commitment of senior leadership of the UCLA Health System. We said, 'Let's just make it happen.'"

Miraculously, the officials at BAMC said yes and gave their approval for a test.

The program exemplifies the mission of the UCLA Health System: to improve humankind and suffering.  "What makes us most proud is to provide safe, quality care delivered compassionately and with dignity," explained David Feinberg, chief executive officer, UCLA Health System and associate vice chancellor, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "This program of unbelievable complexity-and fantastic results-exemplifies that."
 
"It is truly life-changing," Katz said. "This is the most important kind of work we can be doing."

In the what-can-I-do-to-help spirit, UCLA clinical nurse specialist and former U.S. Army nurse Priscilla "Patti" Taylor led a community group of military veterans in creating several "quilts of valor" to be presented to arriving soldiers-a military tradition. Taylor presented Mankin with a patriotic quilt to give comfort and aid his healing process. She also volunteered to serve as his case manager and is helping to coordinate his care at UCLA.

"This program fills the gap between 'We've done all we can' and the reality of wholeness," Taylor said. "It gives new hope."

"It is the divine right of Man to appear human," reads one of Dr. Timothy Miller's favorite quotes above a church door near the University of Bologna, Italy.  "That is what we're trying to accomplish here," said the military veteran, who is chief of reconstructive and plastic surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and lead "Operation Mend" surgeon.


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