GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Two decades ago, Richard DeVos needed a heart transplant. That experience ultimately helped shape what Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids is today.

In 1997, DeVos underwent a heart transplant in London. Once he returned to Grand Rapids, he worked to make major organ transplants possible in his hometown.

“We are very proud of the impact he’s had on our heart and lung transplant program,” Spectrum President and CEO Tina Freese Decker explained. “It’s called the Richard DeVos Heart and Lung Transplant Program. But he’s also brought physicians here, exceptional physicians, and researchers so that we can continue to advance the care and the research and academics so we can provide care locally.”

DeVos died Thursday of complications from an infection. He was 92.

“Today we lost a giant in our community and he has a large heart and now our heart is breaking today,” Freese Decker said. “He’s been so generous. He’s been an inspiration to all of us. But to Spectrum Health, to really make sure care could be provided locally and high quality so no one needs to travel, that epitomizes his inspiration and his vision for what we’ve been creating here.”

Part of that lasting inspiration, Freese Decker said, was the time DeVos devoted to interacting with people rather than just leaving his contribution at major monetary support.

“He joined us at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in celebrating the holidays with the kids in the hospital, spending time with them. Spending time with the caregivers. That was his personal touch and that’s why people followed him, talked to him and were proud to be with him,” she said.

DeVos also pushed for the Blodgett-Butterworth merger to decades ago, which was the birth of Spectrum Health.

“That was the start of bringing all of this together. To have the conversation of what we could be in the future and so I think that’s really important about his inspiration and vision,” Freese Decker recalled. “I think with his legacy, it is the time and the treasure. He was very purposeful about what was important and why it was important and he was truly a part of Spectrum Health and you can see his fingerprints everywhere.”

>>App users: Photos of Rich DeVos’ life