Dermatologist Bryna Kane, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, vividly remembers her childhood in Long Beach, where the arms of many of her parents’ friends bore identifying tattoos that had been forcibly applied by the Nazis. Many of the men wore long-sleeved shirts during the hot summer in order to cover the tattoos, while others kept them exposed as an emblem of defiance.
"I was always intrigued by the tattoos," she says. "I couldn’t ever forget them."
She saw more tattoos as an adult, with the rise of the gang culture in the 1970s and ’80s in the Los Angeles region. As a then-single mother and an intern and resident in pediatrics at UCLA, and later as a resident and chief resident in dermatology at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the kids she encountered from gangs had "little or no loving care, so the gangs were the family they didn’t have. They had no guidance, and minimal self-esteem."
These experiences inspired Kane to help gang members and young people at risk turn their lives around. In 1988 she and her colleague, physician Edward Glassberg, founded the "Erase the Past" tattoo removal program in Long Beach that gave troubled youths a chance to move forward with productive lives. For her selfless dedication to this work, she has been named the recipient of the School of Medicine’s 2010 Humanitarian Award.
"UC Davis taught me how to be an ethical physician with integrity, and that’s made me a better physician."
Kane, a 1980 UC Davis alumna, is named for her grandmother, one of the first female physicians in her Polish town who later was killed in the Holocaust for trying to save neighborhood children. Kane has practiced dermatology for nearly 25 years and is the founding partner and co-owner of Laser Skin Care Center Dermatology Associates. She also has clinical teaching appointments at UCLA, where she is an assistant clinical professor of medicine and dermatology.
Erase the Past holds monthly tattoo removal clinics at Long Beach Memorial Medical Center for gang members and youth-at-risk who agree to perform community service in exchange. Since its inception, Erase the Past has received numerous awards and has removed the tattoos of more than 5,000 youths ages 14 to 25.
Kane removes their gang tattoos with numerous sophisticated laser treatments. Their markings, which include loved ones’ names, group affiliations and pictures as well as gang symbols, often stigmatize these young people and mark them for life, she says. For many young people trying to break from their past, the tattoos ostracize them from parts of society and prevent them from obtaining jobs.
"There are so many kids who want help and to break that cycle of violence," Kane says. "They’re trying to re-educate themselves and get back into society. But until they erase their past and build self-esteem, they can’t move forward. Not only is a tattoo an emotional vestige of their past, it’s also a physical reminder."
Kane is the author of numerous articles in her areas of medical expertise and also co-wrote a textbook chapter on nutrition while at UC Davis. She has been a keynote speaker at numerous local and national events in which she explained how to negotiate as a female physician in today’s medical environment, and described her experience with gang tattoo removal.
She was the first female physician partner to work at Memorial Medical Group in Long Beach and the first female physician to serve on the Long Beach Memorial Medical Center board of directors. She is the past president of the Southern California American Medical Women’s Association, among many other professional organizations.
Kane, who remains modest about her community work and many accomplishments, is noticeably proud of her family: husband Jerry Kaufman, a mortgage broker and investment adviser; son Michael, a filmmaker who lives in Israel; daughter Elisa Waltzman, an opera singer and musician married to physician Josh Waltzman; and son David, a neuroscience student at UC Santa Barbara who plans to attend medical school. She has a new granddaughter named Abigail Edith.
Throughout her career, Kane never has forgotten the philosophy of the School of Medicine, which "encompasses caring for the whole person as a patient, and reaching out to everyone in your community," she says. "UC Davis taught me how to be an ethical physician with integrity, and that’s made me a better physician."
That carries over to Erase the Past, through which she gives back to youths in trouble and "they pay it forward and get back their lives," she says. "It’s their stories I’m proud of. For me, it’s been an amazing journey."
The need is significant. More than 81 million Americans over age 20 have one or more types of cardiovascular disease such as high blood pressure, coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure. Peripheral vascular disease is estimated to affect up to 10 million Americans. UC Davis Health System is improving cardiovascular health through state-of-the-art patient care, cutting-edge research, education and outreach.