The Pentagon says more than 50,000 American troops were wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of those injuries require years of surgery and other treatments. Now, wounded warriors with severe head and facial trauma are getting help from a program called Operation Mend.
Retired Army Sergeant Jason March Has come a long way since a sniper in Iraq shot him behind his right ear 8 years ago. He's undergone 80 surgeries. "The entire right side of my face was pretty much reconstructed," he says.
Many of those procedures happened at UCLA'S Operation Mend Program. It gives wounded veterans free access to plastic and reconstructive surgeons.
Jason's treatment also involved minor procedures such as having a medical tattoo artist disguise a scar on the back of the sergeant's head, to make it look like hair was growing back. Jason says, "I didn't like people staring at that. And I always wore hats. I got tired of wearing hats."
His biggest milestone was getting his smile back. As he explained, "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"
Plastic Surgeon Reza Jarrahy removed a nerve from Jason's groin and transferred it to his cheek. Dr. Jarrahy says. "Really the greatest fulfillment comes or came in Jason's case at the end of a 2-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," Jason says. He plans to go back to school to study graphic design, something he never thought he'd have the confidence to do again.
Operation Mend has treated more than 100 wounded military men and women.