On September 24, 2017, the Katz family and more than 600 guests celebrated the 10th anniversary of UCLA Operation Mend at the home of Ronald Katz. Operation Mend marked the milestone with a Red, White and Denim-themed backyard party that raised more than $1.1 million to benefit the program. Highlights of the event included a series of 10 heartwarming, humorous and often tearful testimonials from Operation Mend patients and their families, one for each year of the program’s history.
UCLA Operation Mend was launched in 2007 after Katz and his late wife Maddie saw a news report about the devastating injuries inflicted by roadside improvised explosive devices. Maddie turned to her husband and said, “We have to do something about this.” They did, and UCLA Operation Mend was born. To date, 280 patients have received specialty medical care at UCLA, and the growing program continues to change the lives of hundreds of post-9/11 service members, veterans and their families.
Special recognition was given to Katz and the co-founding members of the team who helped build the program, including Amir Rubin, former COO of UCLA Health; Shannon O’Kelley, former associate director of clinical services and COO of UCLA Health; retired chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery Dr. Timothy Miller (MD ’63, RES ’70); Dr. Chris Crisera (RES ’04, FEL ’05), professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery and co-medical director of Operation Mend; Gen. James Amos, U.S. Marine Corps (retired); and Gen. Peter Chiarelli, U.S. Army (retired).
U.S. Army Sgt. Karolyn Smith, an Operation Mend patient who was injured in Iraq in 2005 when an improvised explosive device struck her truck, underwent a successful spine surgery at UCLA. She told the audience that the program has helped her thrive. “After years of chronic debilitating pain, and another five years on opioids, I was losing hope and quickly coming closer to being one of the 22 veterans a day that we lose to suicide,” she said. “In 2015, I found Operation Mend, and not only did they save my life, but they showed me what real care actually looks like.”
Christina Geist, a New York City-based brand strategist, children’s book author and entrepreneur, was a surprise honoree, recognized by program director Melanie Gideon for her ongoing work creating a broad network of support for Operation Mend on the East Coast. Willie Geist, host of NBC’s Sunday TODAY and co-host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe, emceed the event, and Fritz Coleman of KNBC-TV led the live auction. The evening concluded with a concert by Billy Idol, Sebastian Bach, Billy Morrison and the Operation Mend All Star Band.
Currently, Operation Mend provides advanced medical treatment, comprehensive psychological support and an intensive treatment program for post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury for post-9/11 service members, veterans and their families.