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Couple Keeps Hospital in Laguna Hills Feeling Good

The Meiklejohns make another sizable donation to Saddleback Memorial. The Leisure World residents have given more than $30 million to the medical center.

August 05, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

One nightmarish emergency room experience was all it took for Bill and Louise Meiklejohn to realize that Saddleback Memorial Medical Center needed their help. More than $30 million later, the Meiklejohns are still helping.

The Meiklejohns' latest donation of $6.7 million was celebrated by hospital staff Monday in the recently completed Meiklejohn Critical Care Pavilion, which the longtime Leisure World residents had helped fund with an $18-million gift.

The nonprofit hospital in Laguna Hills might still be looking to upgrade its emergency room care if Bill Meiklejohn hadn't spent a long night in the ER about six years ago waiting for a friend to be treated.

"They had these people all lined up and they were trying to figure out who needed the most assistance," said Meiklejohn, 84. "Some of these people were on gurneys overnight before they saw a doctor. When I saw that, I said, 'Boy, we have to do something about this.' "

At that point, the Meiklejohns had donated about $2 million to Saddleback, their local hospital. But after waiting with their friend, the Meiklejohns opened the tap.

To date, the Meiklejohns have given about $35 million to Saddleback Memorial.

Meiklejohn, a manager at Northrop Aircraft until he retired 34 years ago, inherited a large sum of money from his father, Joseph, a United Parcel Service founder. He had given most of it to his alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania, for a scholarship program for underprivileged children and improvements to the fitness center and campus basketball arena.

In addition to funding construction for the critical-care facility, the Meiklejohns have helped build the hospital's Radiation Oncology Pavilion and established a health program for seniors.

The $6.7-million donation will be used to double the size of the operating room, expand surgical services and update surgical equipment.

Saddleback officials said they have been flabbergasted by the Meiklejohns' generosity.

"Everyone here is astounded that the Meiklejohns continue to support the hospital," said Jennifer Lefebvre, spokeswoman for the Saddleback Memorial Foundation. "The employees and physicians know that because of these generous people they are able to do their job better and provide a better service to their community."

Meiklejohn said he wasn't looking for publicity, but admits he has become pretty popular around his community.

"They rolled out the red carpet for me today," he said.

"And I guess most people know who I am when I walk down the street."

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