GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — On this day 10 years ago, the big blue building opened on Michigan Street in Grand Rapids.
Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital would become a nationally recognized treatment center with a focus on kids and their families.
“It is a symbol of hope and healing on the hill because we have families coming from great, great distances,” Dr. James Fahner, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Division Chief of Pediatric Oncology, told News 8. “It was meeting the needs of children and families from not only here in greater Grand Rapids and throughout western and northern Michigan, but really across the state and across the Midwest.”
Fahner has been there since the beginning, working toward what he calls an answered prayer for the area.
“Our community leaders, our pediatricians, our supporters got together and said we need this for our children and for our families,” he recollected. “We don’t want them to have to be uprooted in the middle of the night, in fear and anxiety and sent across the state or out of the state to get to the services of a children’s hospital. We can do that here in West Michigan and we have been able to do that here.”
He said every decision, down to the colors that greet visitors when they walk through the doors, prioritized a sense of calm and comfort for children and their families.
As the hospital reflects on a decade of helping families, Fahner said he feels Helen and Rich DeVos are looking down on its success.
“I know of all of their many gifts in this community, this one was very, very dear and special to Helen’s heart and they just kind of set this wonderful bar for the rest of the community, who really stepped up in that initial campaign and came together and made it possible,” the doctor added.
While the community saw the DeVos’ presence over the years through public appearances connected to the couple’s lasting legacies, Fahner said annual meetings when the cameras weren’t around stick out most in his memory.
“They would have lunch with a few of us from the medical staff so that we could fill them in, and Rich of course would always have some wonderful words of encouragement and inspiration like only Rich DeVos can,” Fahner said.
“Helen would typically have in her purse one or two of the many, many letters that she would’ve received in the weeks or months prior to our luncheon and Helen herself would read a letter and it would be always from a parent or a grandparent of a child that was cared for at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and there would not be a dry eye in the room among any of us. It was always a very emotional moment, but it really underscored the genuine compassion, the really authentic connection they felt to this children’s hospital,” Fahner added.