UCLA’s Operation Mend Provides Disfigured Veteran With Life-Changing Surgery

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A retired Navy officer badly burned while stationed abroad had limited use of his left hand and third-degree steam burns on 31 percent of his body.

“I can’t turn it on. If I hold the back side, I can,” Matt Bove said while trying to maneuver his maimed appendage.

Doctors told Bove there was nothing they could do to fix his left hand.

UCLA’s Operation Mend changed all that. The program gives wounded service members access to the nation’s top plastic and reconstructive surgeons for free.

“We’ve put together really the entire Medical Center’s power to be able to provide any service that they need,” surgeon Kodi Azari told CBS2/KCAL9’s Adrianna Weingold.

Now, eight years after the steam room explosion that left him and five other sailors aboard the U.S.S. Frank Cable disfigured and scarred, Bove is getting the expert medical care he so desperately needed.

Azari and cosmetic surgeon Chris Crisera are at the helm of Operation Mend.

“I can’t tell you how excited I was to see him walk in and see him holding a cup of coffee with that hand. I mean he couldn’t hold anything except for maybe a pencil before,” Crisera said.

The surgery took close to 10 hours to complete as surgeons opened his hand and resurfaced his palm.

Bove says the biggest change post-surgery is handling small tasks we often take for granted: opening door knobs, grabbing cups of coffee, turning wrenches and driving.

Next week, Bove hopes to start work driving big-rigs, now able to grip the wheel with both hands, thanks to the life-changing assistance he received from Operation Mend.

The program’s surgeries, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, are entirely funded by private donations. They cover all travel-related expenses and even fly loved ones so they can accompany the patient.

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