Cheryl Saban, Once Broke, Recounts Her Visit to a Free Clinic Later Named for Her and Her Husband

Patients and a staff member at the Saban Free Clinic; inset, Cheryl Saban

As a newly divorced mother of two preteen daughters, Saban was living hand-to-mouth with no health insurance when a serious illness forced her to swallow her pride and seek medical care.

This story first appeared in the August 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

There are certain seminal experiences that help your personal acorn begin its transformation into the oak tree. One of those moments occurred for me in the mid-1980s. It was the day I stepped into the L.A. Free Clinic as a patient.

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I was a newly divorced mother of two daughters, ages 10 and 12. Finding a job was my first challenge. I called in favors from close friends and professional colleagues that I knew from modeling to get an office management job at a design firm. It paid just enough to cover basic living expenses -- $1,200 a month for rent, gas, food and incidentals for the kids. Health insurance was not a luxury I could afford. I made sure my children's medical needs were always taken care of. I just hoped I didn't get sick.

While I do believe that positive thinking is a great life tool, it didn't stop illness from catching up with me. I did get seriously sick, with what I would learn was an autoimmune disorder. Living month-to-month, I couldn't afford my doctor but at the same time, I couldn't allow my illness to prevent me from working. I needed to seek public assistance.

Though I passed the Free Clinic each day on my way to work, it never occurred to me that I would need its services. There were days when I wondered how I was going make it. I didn't want my daughters to see me sick, tired and beyond repair, which was how I felt. I wanted them to see me as a model of strength and courage.

Dispirited and feverish, I swallowed my pride and dragged myself to the Free Clinic. I was convinced that the clinic's staff would see me as a loser. But the staff and doctors treated me with the utmost respect, and I received excellent care, medication, and check-ups and blood tests -- all with my dignity intact.

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I left the clinic that day a changed woman. My circumstances at work hadn't changed, but my perspective on life had. I had been given an amazing gift -- unconditional human-to-human love, and hope. I didn't know it then, but this epiphany helped guide the philanthropic endeavors of my future.

I recovered from my illness and in 1986 went to work for Haim Saban. We married a year later and had our first child together in 1988. More than 25 years later, I am gratified that my husband and I are donors to the Free Clinic. In April 2008, we made a $10 million gift and it was renamed The Saban Free Clinic.

When this funding opportunity first appeared, my heart twisted and tears filled my eyes. I know how important it is for our community to sustain a free clinic. People line up outside its doors day after day to seek treatment, and they get it, day after day. I will never forget what it feels like to be in a position of need, and to get assistance without being made to feel like I was in any way unworthy for accepting it.

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Haim and I established our Saban Family Foundation in 1999. Health care, education, the welfare of children and better outcomes for women and girls are on our radar, along with Israel. We've done our best to model gratitude and giving for our four children, and they've established their own foundation. We are confident that as our kids' charitable muscles grow, they will continue to promote the welfare of others, and do so with grace, kindness and humility.

Cheryl Saban, Ph.D., is founder of the Women's Self Worth Foundation and author of six books including Recipe for a Happy Life.