A photo of Aaron Mankin and his daughter

A Fateful Evening

In 2006, Maddie and Ron Katz found themselves watching the evening news. The interview guest was a young service member, Marine Corporal Aaron Mankin. Aaron’s mouth, nose, ears, throat, hands, and lungs were severely burned in 2005, when the 26-ton amphibious assault vehicle in which he was traveling struck an improvised explosive device, violently ejecting him. In addition to the injuries to his throat and lungs from smoke inhalation, Mankin suffered intense burns on more than 25 percent of his body. Brooke Army Medical Center had saved his life, but his face remained badly disfigured and he still hoped to “fix the beautiful part.” Maddie turned to Ron and said, “We have to do something about this.” 

Ron, his daughter-in-law, Dana Katz, and friend, David Kelly, traveled to San Antonio and toured the burn ward at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC). In March of 2007, Ron and Maddie Katz and a leadership team from UCLA Health flew back to San Antonio to meet with the BAMC team and discuss a partnership.

In September 2007, skilled hands guided by compassionate hearts embarked on a remarkable journey. UCLA surgeons, with unwavering determination, performed the first of 29 surgeries on Aaron Mankin, each one a step closer to restoring his lost features. In that moment, Operation Mend was born.

Today, Operation Mend meets the evolving needs of post-9/11 service members, veterans, and their caregivers. Since that fateful evening, UCLA Health Operation Mend has served veterans from all service branches, as well as caregivers, from all 50 states — each person with their own story of service and journey to recovery.

Maddie Katz passed away in 2009, leaving behind a legacy of compassion and commitment that continues to this day. Her extended family, bound by love and a shared vision, remains active in Operation Mend. Together, they ensure that the hope begun on that evening in 2006 never wavers, and the promise of healing and restoration endures for generations to come.

15 years of UCLA Operation Mend