Many stories came out of UCLA Health in 2023. Here are the must-reads

It’s a privilege to share the remarkable stories coming out of UCLA Health. Here we take a look at our best articles of the year.
Melissa Watkins wears a gray trenchcoat that symbolizes depression in her exhibit, "The Beauty of Acceptance." A portrait of herself in the trenchcoat is draped over her shoulders as a cape. (Photo by Nick Carranza)
Melissa Watkins wears a gray trenchcoat that symbolizes depression in her exhibit, "The Beauty of Acceptance." A portrait of herself in the trenchcoat is draped over her shoulders as a cape. (Photo by Nick Carranza)

Writers are always looking for a good story to tell. In some cases, it takes digging, in others the story is right there in front of them. At UCLA Health, it’s a lot of both. 

With the amount of world-class health care being administered, scientific discoveries being made and future health care leaders being trained, it would take many times more writers than we have to tell all the amazing stories being lived out daily in the hospitals, clinics and on campus. 

We've been busy. In all, between our flagship publication U Magazine and the UCLA Health Newsroom, we published more than 250 articles in 2023. Whether it was an emotional journey of an organ transplant recipient or a reminder of why it’s important to continue to be diligent about washing our hands, all had a message to share.

Below, Sandy Cohen and Chayil Champion, our terrific senior writers, share their personal top five stories of the year. You’ll also find picks by editors Diya Chacko, David Greenwald and me. Most of the editors’ selections were written by our talented team of contributing writers.

Enjoy a look back at our top stories of 2023.

Sandy Cohen

When faced with a life-altering cancer diagnosis, Melissa Watkins turned to one of her great loves — fashion — and discovered her inner artist.

Watkins was 41 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer that would require chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. Before the diagnosis, Watkins was a passionate fashionista who consistently shared an outfit of the week on social media. Every year for her birthday, she treated herself to a professional photo shoot to feature her favorite looks of the year.

“When I was going through the cancer journey, I refused to let it take over my fashion sense,” Watkins said. She even used chemotherapy treatments as an excuse to dress up.

I was introduced to Watkins after she created an art exhibit in which she interprets the five stages of grief through fashion. She put together outfits to reflect denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. First, she modeled these looks during her annual birthday photo shoot. Then she staged an exhibition in Long Beach where members of the public could view and discuss the resulting photos and outfits depicted. The exhibit, “The Beauty of Acceptance,” will be shared with medical students at USC in 2024.

Watkins’ creative and deeply personal way of dealing with grief touched her caregivers with its vulnerability and generosity. By pouring her challenging emotions into something so engaging and accessible, Watkins invites anyone experiencing grief to find new ways of looking at it and making sense of it.

Her openness and vitality also moved my colleagues and me. Watkins is a vibrant person with an electric smile and infectious positive attitude. You can’t help but root for her. I was honored to help tell her story, “Interpreting the 5 stages of grief through fashion,” and personally inspired by what she’s done — turning the most difficult moments in her life into something beautiful, self-expressive and connective.

Sandy’s top 5 stories of 2023

Interpreting the 5 stages of grief through fashion

2 first-generation Latino medical students go viral on Instagram

Turning medicine caps into mosaics

Oprah Winfrey, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy headline WOW 2023 Mental Health Summit

‘Rippling Reflections’ program invites patients and aspiring physicians to consider their legacy

Chayil Champion

Reed siblings pose at Dodger Stadium
Siblings Andrea Reed Elmore, left, and Doran Reed, take in the sights at Dodger Stadium before being honored prior to game time. (Photo by Nick Carranza/UCLA Health)

As a senior writer for Health & Wellness, it is the time of year when I get to reflect on my favorite of the many medical articles I was privileged to write in 2023. 

This year, the story at the top of my list is about two adult siblings who have been fighting sickle cell disease since birth. Andrea Reed Elmore and Doran Reed have been battling the blood disorder since they were infants and over the years have become part of the UCLA Health family.

Both siblings grew up, got married and raised families – a big extended family that rolls deep. I know because I had a chance to accompany them and their party of 15-plus in August to Dodger Stadium, where they were honored and presented with jerseys on the field in front a packed ballpark before the game. 

Their story is a remarkable one of resilience, perseverance and faith, as both Andrea and Doran have had to fight through recurring symptoms and pain, frequently adjusting medications when certain dosages and brands no longer were effective.

One would never know their struggle by looking at the joy they carry as individuals and as a family. Andrea and Doran continue to thrive and are an inspiration for others fighting sickle cell disease.

Chayil’s top 5 stories of 2023

Support of family, community and UCLA Health caregivers sustains siblings battling sickle cell disease

Paralysis doesn’t keep UCLA Health patient from receiving best possible Father’s Day gift

How to stem the rising tide of suicide

Medical device engineer reaps benefits of his own efforts

Heart attack and cardiac arrest are not the same thing

Diya Chacko

Gregory Victorianne leaning against a tree
Gregory Victorianne has dedicated decades to HIV prevention and research in Los Angeles. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

I oversee the Science/Research and Health Equity, Diversity and Inclusion topics. This year, writers tackled a wide range of stories, from how clinical trials find participants to the latest techniques in fighting cancer, stroke and cardiac arrhythmia.

I loved editing this story about Gregory Victorianne, who is a recruitment and retention coordinator for community-based research projects. One of those is the Mobile Enhancement Prevention Support (MEPS) Study, which tests ways for those recently released from prison to stay healthy.  Victorianne is key to recruitment efforts: He’s spent decades as a community organizer and advocate for HIV prevention, building trust and relationships in the neighborhoods he serves. He’s also a truly interesting character.

Science-focused stories usually involve uncomplicating new research and techniques for readers. Writer Lauren Ingeno did a terrific job with this story about UCLA Health physicians using a new method to normalize heart rhythm. The procedure involves a partnership between electrophysiologists and surgeons, a remarkable “game-changer” for patients with persistent atrial fibrillation. 

Diya’s top 5 stories of 2023:

Meet Gregory Victorianne, who has dedicated decades to HIV prevention and research in Los Angeles

Hybrid ablation procedure puts A-fib hearts back in sync

How gender-affirming care can help treat emotional pain

Decades after residency, two UCLA neurosurgeons reflect on how things have changed for women and people of color

Gaining a clearer picture of how injury, illness reshape the brain

David Greenwald

Illustration by Norma Bar
Illustration by Norma Bar.

I edit U Magazine, the flagship publication of the UCLA health system and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Writers over this past year have delved into such topical issues as the disturbing increase in teen depression and collaborations between faculty in the school of medicine and UCLA School of Engineering to develop futuristic prosthetic devices to help make patients whole.

When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its biennial Youth Risk Behavior Survey in February 2023, its findings that levels of extreme distress among teens had reached epidemic levels made national headlines.

“The Kids Aren’t Alright,” published in the Spring 2023 issue of U Magazine, is an important story that not only explores the issues surrounding teen depression, but also taps the expertise of UCLA Health experts to illuminate appropriate responses. Writer Dan Gordon takes a deep dive into the subject, calling upon UCLA Health experts in adolescent mental health and suicide to examine the factors contributing to the malaise and to discuss the actions urgently needed to reverse the tide.

In any era, teen life can be challenging and fraught. But growing up in a world dominated by social media, today’s teens face challenges unlike those of previous generations. Bullying was once face-to-face; now, all too many young girls are victimized online without knowing who their perpetrator is, and in full view of their peers. It’s a mixed bag — many youths benefit from the increased opportunities to connect positively with peers — but the known downsides, including reductions in face-to-face interaction, poorer quality sleep and the perils of social comparison, raise ample causes for concern.

David’s top 5 stories of 2023:

The Kids Aren’t Alright

My Face in the Mirror

Lonely Nation 

Conflict on the Maternal-Fetal Front

Board Certified

Leo Smith

Havanah is recovering well after her emergency heart surgery. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)
Havanah is recovering well after her emergency heart surgery. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/UCLA Health)

It can be daunting to try to fully capture the science, the emotions, and the skills involved in the practice of life-changing medicine. Writer Lisa L. Lewis, however, did just that with “Baby delivered at 29 weeks for heart surgery now thriving.”

Lisa told the story of baby Havanah and her family chronologically – from what was supposed to be a routine prenatal checkup for her mom, to the rapid assembly of a team of some of the nation’s top doctors, to the emergency C-section and the intricate heart surgery that immediately followed. 

Through the voices of Havanah’s parents and the words of UCLA Health doctors, Lisa shows just what a highly skilled multidisciplinary health care team is capable of accomplishing.

Leo’s top 5 stories of 2023

Baby delivered at 29 weeks for heart surgery now thriving

For kids and teens, energy drinks may have harmful side effects

Low-dose CT screening can catch lung cancer early – but most people overlook it

Care team for minors with autism now includes behavioral analyst with special training

Nearly 40 years after a life-saving heart procedure, a joyous 100th birthday celebration

Take the Next Step

Read more about UCLA Health in the UCLA Health Newsroom, and catch up on U Magazine.