Many troops remain disfigured or impaired despite multiple reconstructive operations. Tackling the toughest cases is the goal of Operation Mend, a program of the UCLA Medical Center, Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and the Veterans Affairs-Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.
Army Staff Sgt. Michael Mills, 47, who lives in Freeport, Minn., northwest of Minneapolis, is one such patient. He was injured in Iraq in 2005 by a bomb that left him with major burns and broken bones all over. He lost a finger and thumb. He has a dozen pins in bones and a plate in his hip. He was missing part of an ear and part of his nose.
Mills had 10 surgeries with Operation Mend, including three on his hands. Surgeons repaired his nose with part of his forehead.
“I’m very happy with the new look I have now,” Mills said. “I don’t let my disability run my life. I run my disability.”
Some wounds remain, though. Mills said he suffers from a mild traumatic brain injury, depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Counseling through the Department of Veterans Affairs has helped him cope, and he said he no longer has flashbacks and night sweats and is more able to control anger.
“I have more good days now than I do bad days,” he said. Doctors can fix his bones and his nose, but “they can’t heal what’s inside,” Mills said. “Only I can do that.”
Army regenerative medicine:
VA medical research: http://www.research.va.gov
Operation Mend http://operationmend.ucla.edu/
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