"Operation Mend's" first patient, Cpl. Aaron Mankin, 26, returned to UCLA for the final stretch of his reconstructive surgery. Injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005, Mankin has undergone a series of facial reconstructive surgeries at UCLA over the past year as part of the collaborative pilot program between Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas.
"I am in the hands of professionals who want nothing more than the best they can give me," Mankin said. "Now I get to go back to the guys at BAMC and say, 'Hey, look at me, we can make this happen.'"
The surgeries have been led by Dr. Timothy Miller, chief of reconstructive surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, who is also a military veteran.
"I want these young men and women to look their very, very best. If we continue to see improvement with each operation, then we will go as long as necessary to get the best result we can," Miller said.
Currently, there are nine soldiers in the "Operation Mend" program. During treatment, patients and their families are housed with "buddy" families throughout Los Angeles and at UCLA's Tiverton House, a hotel adjacent to the hospital campus designed to meet the needs of patients receiving treatment at UCLA.
"We are a home away from home for families of patients at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. If we can do something in even a small way to help these people who have helped us, who have put their lives on the line for us, it means a great deal to our staff," said Diana Fuchs, general manager of Tiverton House. "If we can help their families be more comfortable in a difficult time, it makes us feel that we are doing something."
"It is more than an honor to take care of these men who have given so much," said UCLA clinical nurse specialist and former U.S. Army nurse Priscilla "Patti" Taylor, who volunteered to serve as Mankin's case manager and is helping to coordinate his care at UCLA. "This community respects them for their sacrifices to their country so that we can have our freedom here."
"It's a heartwarming experience to get to know these soldiers and their families," said Carolyn Casillas, "Operation Mend" surgery coordinator. "It is a long process, but I'm glad they get to come to L.A. and see the sights and have a good time while they're having treatment."
"It is easy to be motivated to give back to them," said Dr. Christopher Crisera, assistant professor, plastic and reconstructive surgery, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
"For me, it is particularly gratifying," Miller said. "If these young men and women are happy, then I'm happy."
Melanie Gideon, "Operation Mend" coordinator, summed up the experience: "There are so many ways to help the soldiers who have helped this country. The people at UCLA behind the scenes making the big decisions really care about the people on the other side of the decisions."