Celebrating five years of excellence: UCLA Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health

Dr. Esrailian with Kardashian sisters
Legacy of Healing and Hope: Khloe Kardashian, left, Dr. Eric Esrailian, Kim Kardashian and Kourtney Kardashian stand together, symbolizing unity, strength and commitment at the fifth anniversary of UCLA's Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health. (Photo by John McCoy/ UCLA Health)

An intimate gathering at Lulu at the Hammer Museum on April 15 hailed a milestone for the UCLA Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health – its fifth anniversary. Distinguished guests including Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian, daughters of the center’s namesake, joined an elite group of physicians and clinicians for the commemoration.

The occasion not only honored the legacy of the late Robert Kardashian but also celebrated the center’s remarkable achievements in esophageal health since its founding in 2019.

Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health and CEO of the UCLA Hospital System, was among the attendees, a reflection of the center's high standing within the health community. Eric Esrailian, MD, MPH, chief of the Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases, a pivotal figure in the center’s journey and a close friend of the Kardashian family, delivered opening remarks that encapsulated the center's ethos.

“The Kardashian Center is an exceptional example of the clinical innovation, broad-reaching education, and translational research successes that have helped make UCLA the number one public university and leading health system,” Dr. Esrailian stated.

Further emphasizing the center's impact, Dr. Esrailian added, “The Robert G. Kardashian Center for Esophageal Health is a part of a large wave of UCLA advancements, and I could not be more proud of the accomplishments and the developments that have brought us to this point.”

The collaborative spirit that Dr. Jeffrey Conklin, the center’s founding director who passed away in 2022, had instilled, was evident as Kevin Ghassemi, MD, medical director of the Kardashian Center, and Jane Yanagawa, MD, surgical director of the center, shared the platform to discuss the team’s collective advances in esophageal health.

Dr. Ghassemi reflected on the center's progress: “Since its inception, we have made great strides in improving patient care in the treatment of esophageal cancer, both in the early and advanced stages through early detection. We’re seeing better outcomes for treatment of esophageal cancer and the prevention of precancerous changes.”

He highlighted the comprehensive care offered by the center.

“We’re also providing amazing care for benign esophageal conditions such as acid reflux and swallowing disorders,” he said. “We're achieving this through state-of-the-art diagnostic tools as well as both endoscopic and surgical treatments."

From the specialist who conducts the initial biopsy to the surgeon who performs the operation, the goal of the Kardashian Center is to bring multiple disciplines together to optimize care. 

Through collaboration and innovation, Kardashian Center paves way for advances in treatment of esophageal disorders

Dr. Ghassemi emphasized the innovative approaches being employed by the center.

“We’re using groundbreaking clinical trials, multidisciplinary conferences, and cutting-edge minimally invasive surgeries and medical procedures,” he said. “These endeavors not only bring together, but amplify, the skills of world-class experts we have here in the fields of gastroenterology, surgery, medical oncology, and radiation oncology.”

Dr. Yanagawa praised the integrative care “that goes way beyond our conventional ideas of what constitutes medical treatment.”

“Through the center, we have an amazing team of dietitians, psychologists, speech pathologists and specialized nursing who all work together to provide the best care possible,” she said.

“We recently heard from a patient who was treated by a lot of the clinicians who are in attendance tonight,” Dr. Yanagawa said. “She underwent a complex surgery and her journey is truly a testament to the power of comprehensive care. As of today, not only can she eat and drink, but she’s cycling 150 miles a week and she’s preparing to run in the Boston Marathon.”

Kardashians with physicians
United for a Cause: (From left) Dr. Eric Esrailian, Dr. John Mazziotta, Dr. Kevin Ghassemi, Dr. Jane Yanagawa join Kim, Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian, Johnese Spisso, Dr. E. Dale Abel and Dr. Steven Dubinett at the UCLA Robert G. Kardashian Center's fifth anniversary celebration. (Photo by John McCoy/ UCLA Health)

The emotional pinnacle of the evening was reached when Kim Kardashian spoke about her father’s legacy and the center’s role in honoring it.

“Eric was one of the first people we called to figure out how we can really honor my father and what that would look like in a meaningful way,” Kardashian stated.

She shared her father's aversion to medical environments saying, “It’s so interesting that we chose to do a partnership like this because my dad hated hospitals, hated doctors and would never go, and he was the kind of guy that would go when it was too late like so many people we know and stories we heard.”

Kardashian expressed her pride in the center’s impact on the lives of those she cares about.

“I have friends that I have referred to the Robert G. Kardashian Center, and it has saved their lives. It makes me proud to hear them be so grateful that they found a place that was dedicated to the one thing that would help them.”

She concluded with gratitude and appreciation for the medical community.

“I’m glad that I can contribute to the conversation surrounding esophageal health, even if it’s just to bring awareness,” Kardashian said. “Being a nurse or a doctor is the hardest job in the world and we respect them all so much and we’re so grateful to Eric for helping us make this a reality.”