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A Fighter for Children's Health - Donna Antebi Keeps the Cedars-Sinai Mobile Medical Clinic Rolling Out to Families in Need

By Betty Goodwin, Privilege Magazine, April 2005

 

When Donna Estes Antebi takes her children for regular checkups and immunizations, or when one of them needs to see a doctor immediately, she shoots down the hill from her house in Bel Air and zips across Sunset to their pediatrician's office in Beverly Hills. Taking her kids to the doctor is something you would assume that she and friends in her social milieu take for granted, but they don't. Not any more.

 

Since she learned about a mobile clinic known as C.O.A.C.H. for Kids and Their Families (Community Outreach Assistance For Children's Health), which provides health care and social services in economically disadvantaged areas, Antebi has made it her mission to see that the wheels keep rolling.

 

 Eleven years ago, Kirk and Anne Douglas and their son Peter, along with Irving Feintech, then chairman of the board of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, formed the C.O.A.C.H. Foundation, run by Peter, to launch Cedars' C.O.A.C.H. program. But in 1998, when Peter Douglas moved away from Los Angeles, the foundation was discontinued. Even though it was partly funded by Cedars and partly by grants, "it was apparent the program would need additional support," says Michele Rigsby, C.O.A.C.H.'s program manager and director of clinical services. That's when Antebi, who was a foundation board member, "came to the rescue," says Rigsby. "Donna was the one who kept C.O.A.C.H. together," says Feintech. "When she came on board, it was lucky for all of us."

 

Antebi immediately put together a new support group and became chairperson, a position she still holds. She then assembled a board consisting of her well-connected friends, including many deep-pocketed figures in the entertainment business, and others with creative and business skills that Antebi knew she could tap into. She didn't just enlist "the wives," as is often done, but the power couples, including Mike and Irena Medavoy, Sugar Ray and Bernadette Leonard, Michael and Jenna King, Bud and Cynthia Yorkin and Larry and Joni Flax. As board member (with her movie producer husband Michael) Dagny Dubelko says, "Donna gets the couple involved, because the husbands are often the ones writing those big checks."

 

Antebi had another move up her sleeve. She held the nascent group's first fundraiser at her glamorous house atop Bel Air. "I invited all my friends," she says. The honoree, Sara Ban Breathnach, author of Simple Abundance, a book of daily inspirations, surprised everyone by donating $50,000. Antebi matched Breathnach's gift. Kirk Kerkorian put in $50,000. And other friends gave another $100,000.

 

By the time Antebi and her board held their second ball in 2001, C.O.A.C.H. was able to unveil a second mobile unit - a 34-foot, custom-built vehicle the size of a semi tractor trailer. The clinics travel to the most economically-disadvantaged areas of Los Angeles - including the Pueblo del Rio Housing Development and the Union Rescue Mission downtown, churches, and elementary and middle schools. There are five staff members on board, ranging from a nurse practitioner to a social work case manager, who assesses every family to determine their social service needs such as housing. Nobody is wasted. One of the drivers has clinical training as an Emergency Medical Technician; the other is Certified Nursing Assistant, and it is they who perform screenings for hearing, vision and vital signs. The vehicles operate Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, the staff stays at Cedars to do follow-up work.

 

"I think of them as rolling pediatric clinics with three exam rooms," says Antebi. "We take care of immediate medical needs. If someone needs a prescription; we give them the entire amount. We stock the clinics with 56 of the most commonly prescribed medications. If we discover something more serious in nature, we'll bring them into Cedars and treat them. If they're being treated at a C.O.A.C.H. clinic, we provide them with a number they can call for emergencies when we're not there. If they need to go to a meeting at an agency, we often give them a taxi voucher to make sure they get where they're going, and we also make sure they're expected there.

 

"We deal with children who would not see a doctor at all except for emergency room visits. It's pretty sad. Many of the children go home to shelters. Every time I go to one of these areas, I come to tears. I think if these people can endure their daily life challenges, then I think I can endure the hard work it takes to raise the funds. It puts life in perspective. You can see why I couldn't let it just go under."

 

Antebi admits that she doesn't exactly look the part of medical savior. Tall, slender and strikingly pretty, she works at home in her typical uniform of tight jeans, boots and long pearls. "People think, these are ladies who do lunch, just a bunch of girls who want their picture in the paper. You have no idea how much work it is. There's not a single day that goes by that I don't worry about it. Ever. Ever. Ever. It's very hard raising money. You can't always count on the same deep pockets you have year after year. One year, someone gives $100,000, the next they don't. Dot coins are running. Dot coins are crashing. It's absolutely evolving."

 

Right now, she and the board are pulling together their next fundraising hall for the fall. So far, all they know for sure is that it will be on October 22 at the Beverly Hills Hotel. The room will be fabulously decorated on a tight budget. Board members Edgar Zamora, Danica Perez and Red Barris are the creative brains behind it. Zamora was the event designer for Brad and Jen's wedding and the Disney Hall opening. "I don't write checks to produce our events," Antebi says. "We're lean and mean. Even when I have to write a check for $100 I ask, `Is it worth spending $100 or paying for another baby's checkup?' "

 

The entertainers perform gratis. In previous years C.O.A.C.H has had Don Henley, Seal and Richard Marx. A headliner isn't locked down for this year, but the benefit is almost sure to raise lots of money. Last year, when Henley performed, the event reaped $1.6 million. Antebi, who is separated from her husband, has three children, ages 17, 7 and 5. "She's an amazing mother," says her friend Dagny Dubelko. "She's one of the best mothers I know, completely hands-on. I've heard her explain things to her children. I told her, `If anything bad ever happens to me, could you tell my kids?' She takes joy in her children, that's why she's perfect for this charity."

 

Professionally, Antebi ran her own movie product placement company, representing companies like Adidas. She says modeling or anything that exploited her looks was never an option. "I'm very shy by nature. I'll rise to the occasion out of necessity to make a speech for C.O.A.C.H. I never had the disposition to relinquish control of my life over to someone to say, `I pick you.' [OK, she did play Snow White at Disneyworld in Orlando all through high school and college.] I was always more interested in producing and creating. I love the process of turning nothing into something that matters." C.O.A.C.H. is an expensive program, with 15 clinical professionals on staff, says Antebi. "But when you're so blessed that you can take your children to good doctors, it makes you aware of quality health care. Our belief is that all children have the right to quality healthcare in this country no matter what their circumstances are." 

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