U.S. military personnel wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan are receiving reconstructive plastic surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center under "Operation Mend," a collaborative pilot program between UCLA and Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) in San Antonio, Texas.
"'Operation Mend' represents an extraordinary collaboration between the surgeons and staff of UCLA Medical Center and Brooke Army Medical Center. Our two organizations are working collaboratively 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.
"Operation Mend" was launched with the help of philanthropist, inventor, and UCLA Medical Center advisory board member Ronald A. Katz, who recognized that providing excellent care to injured soldiers need not be limited to the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs and the Armed Services.
"We wanted to do whatever we could to make sure our wounded soldiers get the best care that the country has to offer," said Katz, who helped bring the hospitals' two bureaucracies together.
The Katz Family Foundation is supporting all non-covered costs, including travel and housing, for soldiers and their families during treatment. Patients and family members are housed at UCLA's Tiverton House, a hotel on the college campus designed to meet the needs of patients receiving treatment at UCLA.
Brig. Gen. James Gilman, commander of Brooke Army Medical Center, said Operation Mend is a great opportunity to partner with UCLA's specialists to provide the best outcome for each of our wounded servicemen and women.
The project's first patient was U.S. Marine Cpl. Aaron P. Mankin, 26, injured by an improvised explosive device in Iraq in 2005. He sustained burns over 25 percent of his body, and his face was severely disfigured. In September, 2007, Mankin began a lengthy series of facial reconstructive surgeries led by Dr. Timothy Miller, chief of reconstructive and plastic surgery at UCLA Medical Center, who is also a military veteran.
"The most significant defect is that Cpl. Mankin had very little nose," said Miller. After completing procedures on Mankin's lips and cheek, Miller took a piece of cranial bone to support the nose and re-create the nasal tip.
When news of UCLA's involvement in the project became known, 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 means a future brighter than anyone has yet to imagine," Mankin said.