GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A multimillion-dollar donation by one of downtown Grand Rapids’ newest corporate residents is changing how doctors treat children at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

When Jordan and Kenan Smith of Middleville became parents, they knew their first born, Merritt, was one of a kind.

“It was about 12 months where we kind of started to notice some things were a little different,” said Jordan Smith.

It wasn’t until their little girl had a seizure and stopped breathing while the family was out to eat that they start looking for answers.

“That’s when our journey started of testing and hospital stays and blood work and everything that you could possibly think of,” said Jordan Smith.

Kenan, Jordan and Merritt Smith, whose lives are impacted by the $15M donation to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. (June 3, 2022)

Around the same time, the Brusk family of Plainfield Township was welcoming their second child, a feisty little girl named Amelia.

“I did the obligatory dad check where you look to see if there’s 10 fingers and 10 toes because that’s what you’re told to do … They took Amelia away from Tricia, put her on a bed and did an assessment. (They) found that she had a high, soft, cleft palette, that her fingers and toes were fused, and her feet were fused,” said Joel Brusk.

Amelia was diagnosed with Apert Syndrome. It’s a genetic disorder and a condition that’s put her through 10 surgeries so far.

Joel Brusk and Jordan Smith both work for Acrisure. Newly settled into Studio Park in downtown Grand Rapids, the rapidly growing insurance brokerage firm was searching for a way to show their commitment to the community.

“It wasn’t just let’s move downtown, (it was) let’s impact downtown,” said Greg Williams, CEO of Acrisure.

(File) Acrisure building downtown Grand Rapids

In 2020, right before the pandemic grabbed all the headlines, Acrisure made a $15 million donation to their neighbors on Michigan Street at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

“Having an opportunity like this was incredibly exciting for us to not just take a step forward, like a baby step forward, but really to take a quantum leap,” said Dr. Caleb Bupp, Division Chief Medical Genetics and Genomics at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

Bupp says the genetic and genomic testing they are able to do now at the Acrisure Center for Innovation in Children’s Health has changed the healthcare game.

“We now have the opportunity to do this so much faster than we ever did before. It’s really a mindset shift from ‘maybe we can figure this out’ to ‘wow we have some powerful tools that will give us these answers so fast,’” said Bupp.

It means answers for families like the Brusks and Smiths. Amelia’s Apert Syndrome is a rare genetic syndrome. Merritt has a genetic deletion; some of her genetic information is missing. That took months to uncover.

“You lose sleep over that. It’s just the unknown of it. If you could even alleviate a couple of days of that for somebody, for a set of parents, it’s just incredible to even think about,” said Kenan Smith, Merritt’s father.

Finding an answer and a diagnosis can bring parents peace of mind. Pinpointing genetic anomalies allows doctors to provide more precise care.

“When you think about how we deliver healthcare, shouldn’t we be delivering our care faster and more precisely and that is exactly what this has let us do,” said Bupp.

In 2019 at the Acrisure holiday party, the company shared the news about the donation with their employees. Knowing how this gift would impact families like her own, Jordan Smith became emotional. 

“We didn’t have to wait long to get confirmation that it was the right cause and the right decision, we had it literally within seconds of making the announcement,” said Williams.

“I remember Jordan called me right afterwards. I could tell she’d been crying. I’m like oh my goodness what’s going on? Tells me the whole story and I start tearing up,” recalled Kenan Smith.

Joel Brusk, who is an attorney with Acrisure, did not start working for the company until after the donation had been given.

“Part of the reason I wanted to work for Acrisure so bad was the fact that they did donate $15 million to Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital for the Children’s Center for Innovation,” said Brusk.

Dr. Bupp says the gift isn’t a one-time donation, rather just the beginning of unlocking more medical information in the years to come.

“Looking at what we’re doing now in medicine, but also where we’re going in the future because that’s where a philanthropic donation like this is really a catalyst for moving things forward,” said Bupp.