Published Jan 1, 2008 9:00 AM
Copyright ©Photo by Reed Hutchinson '71
Books, not Bullets
Education was also the reason Maj. Laura Pacha M.D. '98 appealed to the UCLA Medical Alumni Association earlier this year for used textbooks to distribute in northern Iraq. "English is the language of medicine in Iraq, and the universities, teaching hospitals and nursing schools were desperate for updated materials," Pacha relates from her base in Tikrit. "Why did I pick UCLA to ask for donations? My experience there showed me how hard they worked to maintain the humanity in medicine, and I thought UCLA, more than anywhere else, would be receptive to a volunteer program."
In fact, Pacha's modest idea of stateside giving quickly grew into Books Without Borders, a partnership between the U.S. Army, UCLA's schools of Medicine and Nursing, the UCLA Health Sciences Store and the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Books Without Borders was conceived and coordinated by Valerie Walker, director of the UCLA Medical Alumni Association (MAA), after receiving an e-mail from Pacha. Within six months of Pacha's e-mail, the MAA handed more than 5,000 pounds of medical textbooks and journals to the United States Army at a press conference with MAA board member Patrice Healey M.D. '84 and Lt. Col. Christopher Talcott, who chairs UCLA's Military Science Department. As of this writing, the program has delivered nearly 3,000 medical textbooks to northern Iraq. Five regions in Iraq will benefit from these medical materials on a daily basis.
When asked why she felt a desire to take Pacha's e-mail and design a full-scale project, Walker responded, "The answer is simple: UCLA is a major university and has the responsibility to its students, faculty, alumni, donors and the community to utilize its time and talent resources for the better good of the world."
Walker, previously the volunteer coordinator for the Jules Stein Eye Institute, goes on to explain that UCLA medical association alumni don't always know the full impact of their efforts, but "the university is better and stronger when the work Bruins do comes from a place of passion and purpose."
In Iraq, as health care section chief supporting the area's provincial reconstruction team (PRT) and the man spearheading delivery of the donated textbooks, Capt. Marcus Pecora, School of Nursing '02, says the benefits of Books Without Borders have been immediate. "Doctors have learned new drug therapies in areas like high-blood pressure and antibiotics they didn't even know existed," he notes.
Noting the ever-present threat of attacks from sniper fire and armor-piercing grenades, Pecora says his "book missions" function like any military operation: Materials are loaded into trailers that are hitched to tactical Humvees, and the convoy is protected by an armed security detail. Pecora, who carries a rifle and sidearm, says locations like the nursing high school, in Tikrit's city center, carry a high level of danger. "The drops are in non-secured buildings, so we try not to spend a lot of time in one place," he explains.
Even with all that, it's not enough. Helping secure Books Without Borders on the homefront is Lt. Col. Talcott, who was deployed twice to Iraq and also to Kuwait on a security and training mission.
Talcott worked hand-in-hand with the AMAR International Charitable Foundation and Baroness Emma Nicholson of Winterbourne (UK) to build new health clinics in Baghdad. "We built five new health clinics in the Iraqi city we supported," he says. "Iraqi contractors were hired to refurbish and/or build these facilities and then Iraqi medical doctors and professionals provided the expertise to purchase the medical equipment and medicine to make them fully functioning facilities."
Talcott warns that donation programs from outside Iraq like Books Without Borders still are essential because while "this infrastructure rebuilding occurred with Iraqi leadership direction and supervision, the country lacks the materials and resources needed to make these fixes permanent ... we now can add UCLA to the mix to make a positive difference."
Surgery, not Sniper Fire
Closer to home, Cpl. Mankin's father, Steve, has spent a gut-wrenching day at the UCLA Medical Center awaiting the results of Aaron's surgery. The small-business owner from Rogers, Ark., fights back tears as he describes his son's ordeal.
"When they came and said we're through, he's in recovery," the elder Mankin says, "it was like two and a half years of these emotional peaks and valleys just slammed into me. The first level was just survival, and then it was functionality. Here at UCLA we've entered a new phase that was so unexpected and so life-impacting. In many ways ..." his voice suddenly falls silent. Then, echoing his son's words just a few days before, he says, "... it's just plain overwhelming."
"My only knowledge of UCLA [before Operation Mend] was an impression of an institution striving for and achieving the best. But it wasn't until I came here and met the people caring for my son that those impressions meant anything."
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