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'Operation Mend' healing wounded warriors - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

'Operation Mend' healing wounded warriors

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LOS ANGELES - Wounded warriors are getting a new lease on life thanks to a special program at the UCLA Medical Center.  Service men and women are getting care from top surgeons, and  doctors are healing more than just their scars.
 
Retired Army Sergeant Jason March has come a long way since a sniper in Iraq shot him behind his right ear eight years ago. "The entire right side of my face was pretty much reconstructed... ...over 80 surgeries," March said.
 
Many of those procedures happened at UCLA's Operation Mend Program.  It gives wounded veterans free access to plastic and reconstructive surgeons.

On this day a medical tattoo artist is putting the finishing touches on a scar on the back of March's head -- to make it look like hair is growing back. "I didn't like people staring at that and I always wore hats. I got tired of wearing hats," March said.
 
Operation Mend has treated more than 100 wounded military men and women. For March, the biggest milestone was getting his smile back. "The left side smiled and the right side drooped, and it just really -- I didn't like it when I was in a lot of pictures," March said.

Plastic surgeon Reza Jarrahy removed a nerve from March's groin and transferred it to his cheek. Really the greatest fulfillment comes -- or came in Jason's case -- at the end of a two-year process of some pretty major surgeries when he was able to smile. "I can get in front of any camera and do anything now and feel better now about doing it," March said.
 
March plans to go back to school to study graphic design -- something he never thought he'd have the confidence to do again.
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