‘A warm and generous woman’
Tiny hearts that beat stronger. Little lungs that breathe deeper. Eyes that see more clearly.
Children who step from the shadow of sickness to the sunshine of health, to laugh, play, live and dream of the future.
These gifts of health and healing reflect the legacy of Helen DeVos, felt daily at the hospital named in her honor, a place she nurtured and supported with her time and talents.
DeVos died Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, at the age of 90. A philanthropist and wife of Amway co-founder Rich DeVos, she steadfastly supported many causes that benefitted children.
Her contributions were felt especially at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, where her generosity and compassion has touched the lives of countless children and transformed pediatric medicine, say pediatric physicians and executives who mourn her loss.
“We have lost a great woman and a great friend with the passing of Helen DeVos,” said Bob Connors, MD, the president of Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “Gifts from Helen and her family helped create things here; special things like the new Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital which opened in 2011.
“But Helen also shared her time with us, so we saw her compassion and love for children.”
James Fahner, MD, recalled DeVos’ involvement in the early days of planning the hospital that now bears her name.
“This extraordinary, generous and gracious woman has provided the heart and inspiration for our vision and our work,” said Dr. Fahner, the division chief for pediatric hematology and oncology at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
“Thoughtful and strategic, her engagement was also deeply personal. Watching her with our patients and families, heartfelt and with great compassion and kindness, are memories that shaped my career and that I will treasure forever.”
Giselle Sholler, MD, the director of pediatric oncology research, praised DeVos for her commitment to improving the health of children.
“Helen DeVos, through her compassion and caring, was and will continue to be an inspiration to myself and our pediatric oncology research team here at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital,” Dr. Sholler said. “She has allowed us to reach children here at home in West Michigan and across the world through our research, bringing new treatments and hope to many.”
Marcus Haw, MD, FRCS, said DeVos had a tremendous influence on his life personally and professionally.
“Rich and Helen were instrumental in persuading me to leave my native England and embark on a medical adventure here in West Michigan,” said Dr. Haw, the department chief of pediatric cardiovascular surgery and co-director of the Congenital Heart Center at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “I was immediately taken by her passion for children and for improving the health care of children for all.”
“She and Rich have been fundamental supporters of the cardiac program here at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, which can now compete with the best in the country.”
Never in my wildest dreams in 1982 would I have ever imagined what a wonderful children’s hospital we now have. Obviously, Helen DeVos was instrumental in this all coming to fruition.
Dr. Haw praised DeVos’ continued interest and support for the young patients and the clinicians who cared for them.
“She always inquired about our progress with the same grace and intelligence that she displayed in all her actions,” he said. “The beautiful building that is now Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is a most fitting legacy.”
A former teacher, with four children, 16 grandchildren and six great grandchildren, DeVos showed a genuine interest and empathy for the patients she met during her visits to the hospital.
Dr. Connors recalled her enthusiastic participation in holiday parties, where she offered support and comfort to children and their families.
“Helen was a warm and generous woman. She always wanted to be there giving gifts and reading books and playing games,” he said. “She interacted very easily with the kids. I think it just showed her very strong underlying compassion and love for children.”
Richard Breon, president and chief executive officer of Spectrum Health, said DeVos’ legacy “will live on forever in the hearts and minds of the many people whose lives she touched.”
Recently, during a dinner with Rich and Helen DeVos, they reminisced about the changes over the years at Spectrum Health and Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
“You could tell she had a strong sense of pride in the children’s hospital and what was going on there,” Breon said. “I think she was very pleased with the outcomes of a lot of their work and very pleased at putting her mark on it.”
Decades of growth
DeVos’ support for children’s health care in Grand Rapids, Michigan, goes back decades.
A gift from Helen and Rich DeVos in 1990 helped establish DeVos Children’s Hospital within Butterworth Hospital. As ground was broken in 2006 for a new freestanding children’s hospital, a generous gift from the DeVos family second generation was announced, along with a new name to honor their mother: Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.
The hospital, which opened in 2011, has blossomed into a regional referral center and teaching hospital.
More than 300 pediatric physicians practice in more than 50 specialties and programs. The 234-bed hospital includes Michigan’s largest neonatal center.
U.S. News & World Report honored Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in six specialty areas in its 2017 Best Children’s Hospital rankings. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital ranked among the best nationally in the following specialties: cancer, cardiology and heart surgery, nephrology, orthopedics, pulmonology and urology.
Also in 2017, the Congenital Heart Center at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital received a three-star rating from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons for patient care and outcomes in congenital heart surgery. The rating―the highest possible―places Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital among the top centers for congenital heart surgery in the U.S. and Canada.
Edgar Beaumont, MD, a neonatologist and the medical director of neonatal services, arrived at Butterworth Hospital in 1982. Back then, he said it would have been difficult to imagine all the progress that lay in store.
“Never in my wildest dreams in 1982 would I have ever imagined what a wonderful children’s hospital we now have,” he said. “Obviously, Helen DeVos was instrumental in this all coming to fruition.”