Patti has devoted years of her life serving her country as a military nurse and now volunteers her time serving wounded servicemen and women for Operation Mend.
How did you get involved in the Operation Mend program?
I retired from the Army Nurse Corps in December 2002. In January 2003, I came to UCLA as the clinical nurse specialist for the Liver Transplant Unit. After retiring from UCLA in 2008, I returned to the UCLA School of Nursing as a lecturer and mentor, teaching students the art of being a nurse practitioner.
In the Spring of 2007, Ron Katz and the UCLA Health executive team started talking about creating "Operation Mend." I was invited to a meeting in which I was asked what barriers might be faced and ways to navigate two very large health systems. In order for the program to work, I suggested that someone had to be an advocate for the patients at Brooke Army Medical and an advocate here at UCLA. I was chosen to be UCLA's advocate.
How has the experience been for you volunteering for Operation Mend?
I am a nurse volunteer helping the soldiers because it is my belief that we, as a nation, send these young people to war to keep the wolf off our back doors, but what do we do to support them when they come back wounded? I believe that we should all teach this generation and the next to support the war efforts that keep us safe at home. I'm also trying to start a new program for the caregivers of these soldiers, because they too have been forgotten in the sacrifices they have made to support these wounded soldiers.
How do you handle the heartache of seeing all these wounded soldiers?
It's very disheartening seeing all these soldiers. I have a very supportive husband, two daughters and a son. I have tried to instill in my children and grandchildren what it means to be a humanitarian. My parents and grandparents taught me well and I believe that everyone must sacrifice something in order for us to have our freedom.
It gives me so much joy just to see the smiles on their faces when they look at themselves in the mirror after each of their reconstructive surgeries. I have also integrated a military tradition of presenting each patient with a red, white and blue "Quilt of Valor" on their first surgery day.
Does your family include generations of veterans?
Yes, my father was in World War II and the Korean War. I served during the Vietnam War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm as a military nurse and finished as a commander. My 10 brothers and sisters also served. I have seen and experienced the good, bad and the very ugly of war.
You went to Haiti after the devastating earthquake as part of the UCLA Operation Haiti team, how was your experience?
It was a wonderful journey. First of all, I love nursing and have been doing it for 46 years and am very passionate about all that I do. Being able to go to Haiti after the earthquake and rolling up my sleeves and getting down to the basics of nursing, with no computers or telephones attached to my hip, with nothing to distract me, except doing my job, was wonderful. We had unlimited opportunities to give care. The people were so grateful for just anything.
Do you have any memorable patient stories you would like to share?
All my experiences with my patients are wonderful. Every service person puts his or her handprint on your heart through their resilience to survive and the support they receive from their families. Three of our wounded soldiers struggled to survive because their wives were pregnant and they all fought to live, to see their children.
What do you do in your spare time?
I'm a volunteer outreach coordinator for my church. We serve about 185 poor high-risk families in our neighborhood once a month. I enjoy sewing and quilting, horseback riding and working on stain glass.
To learn more about Operation Mend, click here.
To learn more about more about Operation Haiti, click here.