A Successful Return of the Visionary Ball

Friends - U Magazine Winter 2024
(From left) Dr. Linda Liau, Medical Visionary honoree Johnese Spisso, Smokey Robinson, Courage Award honoree Erika Kort, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dr. Eric Esrailian, Visionary Award honoree Byron Allen, Howie Mandel and Jay Leno.
(From left) Dr. Linda Liau, Medical Visionary honoree Johnese Spisso, Smokey Robinson, Courage Award honoree Erika Kort, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Dr. Eric Esrailian, Visionary Award honoree Byron Allen, Howie Mandel and Jay Leno. (Photo by Todd Cheney | UCLA Health)
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4 min read

After a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Neurosurgery in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA hosted the 2023 Visionary Ball on October 11, 2023, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The celebration brought together more than 400 grateful patients, philanthropists, physicians, business leaders and community partners to support the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery and raise vital funds to advance research and the education of the next generation of neurosurgeons and neuroscientists. The event also raised awareness to support patients who face complex neurological disorders. 

The evening began with a reception and technology showcases of the ExcelsiusGPS, a multifunctional robotic navigation platform designed for spine surgery from Globus Medical, and an interactive presentation on robotic 3D imaging from Brainlab, followed by dinner.  

Howie Mandel, award-winning comedian, television personality, actor and producer, emceed the evening’s program that acknowledged the accomplishments of three honorees and began with a video that highlighted the faculty and research innovations of the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery.  

Dr. Linda M. Liau (RES ’97, FEL ’98, PhD ’99, MBA), chair and executive medical director of the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery and W. Eugene Stern Chair in Neurosurgery, shared, “I have been a part of UCLA Neurosurgery for over 30 years. In this time, I have seen the field evolve in countless ways. Novel imaging technologies and advanced therapies have transformed our approach to the most difficult diagnoses. We have a more diverse pool of neurosurgeon trainees than ever before. Above all, patients with conditions that were once considered untreatable are enjoying longer, healthier lives. What hasn’t changed is the dedication and innovation that has defined UCLA Neurosurgery through its entire history.”  

Dr. Liau then introduced a video from 2016 Courage Award Honoree Don Bellisario, who sent his regards and announced the establishment of the Donald and Vivienne Bellisario Chair to support a researcher who will study neurological disorders caused by an abnormal buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles deep within the brain. 

Dr. Liau introduced Shenell Malloy, Brad Silver and Lauren Miller Rogen, patients who shared their stories with “Points of Light” speeches. These patient testimonials underscored the important and life-changing work happening every day in the UCLA Department of Neurosurgery. 

Dr. Eric Esrailian (FEL ’06), chief of the UCLA Vatche and Tamar Manoukian Division of Digestive Diseases and The Lincy Foundation Chair in Clinical Gastroenterology, introduced Johnese Spisso, MPA, president of UCLA Health, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System and associate vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences. Honored with the Medical Visionary Award, Spisso led UCLA Health through unprecedented times during the COVID-19 pandemic and was instrumental in expanding collaborations with regional hospitals. 

Spisso thanked everyone who had made the evening possible and accepted the award on behalf of all the team members at UCLA Health. “It is humbling to accept the Medical Visionary Award, and I am grateful to have our collective work recognized in this meaningful way,” she said. “These honors are not something that one achieves on their own. As a leader in health care, I know firsthand that the success of an organization is a team effort.” 

Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of Hollywood Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures and DreamWorks Animation, introduced Visionary Award recipient Byron Allen, comedian, producer, philanthropist and founder, chairman and CEO of Allen Media Group. Allen was recognized for his career achievements, contributions to society and philanthropic support. In describing the profound effect that his mother’s undergraduate education at UCLA had on his family, Allen said, “I want to thank UCLA for changing our lives for the better, forever.” He inspired the crowd with a speech about his philosophy for making an impact, and concluded by thanking UCLA Neurosurgery for honoring him with the Visionary Award. 

Erika Kort, who received the Courage Award, came to UCLA under difficult circumstances and received care from UCLA neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel C. Lu. Kort was honored for her strength and resilience in the face of a rare cavernous angioma in her spinal cord. Accepting the award, she thanked her family, UCLA staff and those in attendance for their presence, which supports advances in neurosurgical research and clinical care that changes the lives of patients, such as herself, and countless others. “Thank you for investing in our futures, and thank you for this incredible honor,” Kort said. “Thanks especially to Dr. Lu — you were my family’s rock when we felt like everything was falling apart, and we will be forever grateful for your kindness, patience and expertise.” 

Motown legend Smokey Robinson.
Motown legend Smokey Robinson. (Photo by Todd Cheney | UCLA Health)

A highlight was a comedy set performed by Jay Leno, Emmy Award-winning television host, writer and comedian. The Visionary Ball — a celebration of life, a tribute to courage and a recognition of achievements — concluded with a musical performance by Motown legend, Grammy Award-winner, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, singer, songwriter and record producer Smokey Robinson.  

For more information, contact Nora McCarl at: 310-210-5795