Susan Samueli has been ahead of the curve her entire adult life, first as a female engineer and computer programmer in the 1980s and then as a decadeslong advocate and practitioner of complementary medicine.
A UC Berkeley-educated mathematician and the mother of three girls, Samueli has for 38 years championed a full spectrum of treatment in American healthcare, from tailored exercise, stress reduction, nutrition and supplements to traditional surgery and chemotherapy. That integrated approach is taking hold in doctors’ offices and on university campuses, and she says it can’t happen soon enough.
Samueli’s dedication has now resulted in the largest gift ever to UCI, a $200 million contribution from her and her husband, Broadcom co-founder Henry Samueli, to fund the Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences, which will fully incorporate integrative health in treatment, research and coursework in the fields of medicine, nursing, pharmacy and population health.
“It should be a universitywide goal that integrated medicine becomes mainstream throughout the United States,” she says. “That’s the only way we’re going to get our healthcare costs down. Preventive medicine is important to getting a healthy United States, so it’s really crucial that we do this.”
A Maverick in the Making
Samueli says her life experiences, many of them unexpected, led her to become a powerful advocate and generous donor. She grew up in the San Fernando Valley in a middle-class Jewish home, earned a B.A. in mathematics at UC Berkeley, and – a rarity then and still at many firms – became a staff programmer and systems engineer at IBM. She and her future husband met more than 35 years ago at a singles dance at Stephen S. Wise Temple in Los Angeles. He was a tall, shy engineer at TRW, and she was a tall, not-so-shy engineer who asked him to dance. He was fascinated by both her and her first-generation personal computer, Samueli jokes.
Eventually, they married, moved to a comfortable San Fernando Valley home of their own and began a family. She gave up her IBM career after 13 years. It was then that she began fully exploring her newfound passion for complementary care approaches.
“I started learning everything I could about what was then called alternative medicine,” Samueli says. “I was using a different side of my brain than I did with computer programming, and it felt great. And then my children were born.”
When their first daughter became sick at 4 months old and was given antibiotics, she suffered side effects that troubled her mother.
Samueli discussed it with her husband and said, “I’m going to take her off the antibiotics and try alternative treatments.” He agreed, noting that the baby might have a virus anyway, rendering the antibiotics useless. To her delight, their daughter was quickly restored to good health.
A New Career
That catapulted Samueli into a new career. She earned nutrition and naturopathy degrees and opened a nutrition business in Northridge. Her clientele grew, she recalls, as she guided other people weaning their children off antibiotics.
“Very often, they were hyperactive because of antibiotics, and so the parents were very, very thankful that we could get them off round after round and get them healthy,” says Samueli, who – working with doctors and their care plans – also was able to help adults going through chemotherapy avoid nausea and anxiety and help chronically ill individuals experience less stress and greater well-being.
She does not advocate shunning vaccines or traditional medical care but would like other proven therapies not always recognized to be included in treatment. “This is not an either-or; it’s both. When I broke my shoulder, as I was being driven to the emergency room, I was taking the right herbs to relieve pain and distress on the way,” she says.
“Most of the adults I saw had chronic illnesses that weren’t really being addressed properly. But I would work in conjunction with conventional doctors, and I saw a lot of changes in people. I had a lot of happy clients. They were not happy when I moved to Orange County and had to close up the practice.”
Philanthropy and the Future
After Broadcom went public, making the Samuelis multimillionaires virtually overnight, they moved to Newport Beach to be near company headquarters.
“We love it here; we love Orange County. It’s a great place to live,” Susan Samueli says. She and her husband began giving to causes they believed in and establishing themselves as major local philanthropists, endowing UCI’s engineering school, buying the Anaheim Ducks hockey team, and attending and supporting their local synagogue.
By now, they had three small children, and Samueli didn’t want to start a new business. Her husband decided it was important to recognize her interests in a different way. In 1999, they began funding what is now the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine. Based in Costa Mesa, it has seen a surge in patients over the past two years, as integrative health and the center’s work have received media attention.
“It should be a universitywide goal that integrated medicine becomes mainstream throughout the United States. That’s the only way we’re going to get our healthcare costs down. Preventive medicine is important to getting a healthy United States, so it’s really crucial that we do this.”
As chair of the center’s development and advisory board, Samueli has devoted countless hours to ensuring its success.
“She’s amazing,” says the center’s director, Dr. Shaista Malik, a cardiologist and associate professor who practices and researches complementary approaches. “She truly believes in our mission and gives her time and energy, not just her philanthropic support.”
Moving forward, the center will become an institute at the heart of UCI’s new college, more fully dedicated to research as well as treatment.
“This is a blueprint for fixing what’s broken in American healthcare,” Samueli says of the integrative approach. “We want this type of care to be mainstream.”
Originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of UCI Magazine