Meet the Hollywood Plastic Surgeon Helping Veterans Soothe Their Scars
Through the non-profit organization R.A.W. (Rebuilding America's Warriors), Dr. Norman Leaf, along with a network of surgeons in the country, are working to aid returning wounded members of the armed forces.
There's nothing surprising about plastic surgery often being associated with Hollywood — it's the land of beautiful and flawless creatures, after all. However, one Beverly Hills-based doctor is lending his beauty-enhancing services beyond Tinseltown, along with other Board Certified surgeons around the country.
Dr. Norman Leaf — who has practiced advanced esthetic surgery in the city for over 30 years (and is listed as one of L.A.'s best plastic surgeons in The Hollywood Reporter's annual doctor's issue) — is extending a hand to the returning members of the armed forces who've been wounded in battle through R.A.W. (Rebuilding America's Warrior), a non-profit organization that was founded by nurse Maggie Lockridge in 2007.
"Maggie called me one day about seeing this documentary, in which the CBS correspondent was also wounded, and she said, 'I've got to do something.' I told Maggie I'd love to help her and she asked if I would be her medical director and I said 'sure' but I said, 'Maggie this isn't a L.A. phenomenon, this is a national phenomenon,'" says Leaf, who then went on to contact about 300 to 400 plastic surgeons that are part of the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons to take part in this philanthropic cause and "right off the bat, we had 250 people sign up from all over the country."
According to R.A.W.'s website, the group has grown to 357 surgeons in 47 states that provide their services, which extends beyond reconstructive surgery to dentistry as well.
"We've had a lot of growth in the dental aspect because many of these warriors — it sounds so dramatic to call them warriors but they are — are coming back with their teeth all rotted out," explains Leaf. While it's unclear what's making these men and women in the armed forces return with decaying teeth, the doctor cites the consumption of energy drinks as a potential cause. "They have a lot of sugar in them. And then a lot of stress. They're probably not spending a lot of time brushing their teeth while in combat. We think it's simply bad neglect."
Beyond dental work, the organization also focuses on ophthalmology and orthopedics.
"Everyone thinks of the wounded coming back as prosthetic arms and legs, and that's very obvious," expresses Leaf, who's also the author of Are Those Real?: True Tales of Plastic Surgery from Beverly Hills. However, there's something to be said about the servicemen who are more concerned with being seen with a scar on the face than two prosthetic legs. Says the doc, "It's not just vanity — these scars are remnants that go very deep into the psyche. I think PTSD is a real thing. Anything we can do to improve scars or deformities, even if they're non-function like an artificial limb, improves that."
As for how R.A.W. is funded, Leaf explains it's mostly through grants. "Maggie is always filing grant applications to philanthropic orgs in veteran groups so we’re doing all right," he says. "We have more money than we’re spending which is not a good thing — we want to be able to spend the money." The funds aren't given to the surgeons who volunteer, but instead, the money is spent toward the treatments, transportation, and housing while the patients recover.
Next up for R.A.W.: A benefit event, called "A Night of Honor," on Feb. 20, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in the Palm Springs-adjacent Indian Wells, where Iraq War veteran and Esquire cover star Bryan Anderson (who was also featured in American Sniper) will be honored that evening.
Though the acronym R.A.W. was created without the intentions of spelling war backwards, Leaf says with a smile, "We think to ourselves — that's kind of cool, we didn't realize that. We're trying to undo the effects of the war."
HONORED: Dr. Norman Leaf with wounded warrior Leshonda Gill (far left) and retired Army Captain Leslie Nicole Smith at the Night of Honor event at Hilton Universal Hotel.