Family credits DeVoses with saving son’s life

More than 20 years ago, DeVos family flew Josue Rigueiro home for surgery

Left to right: Karen, Josue and Pablo Rigueiro at the Helen DeVos Women and Children's Medical Center in Grand Rapids. (December 1996 photo courtesy family)

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When Karen Rigueiro looks at old 5-by-7 photo prints from more than 20 years ago, it’s hard to hold back tears.

“We will never forget that day,” she recalled, speaking with 24 Hour News 8.

It was 1996. Rigueiro and her family were doing missionary work in Barcelona, Spain, when her son, then-8-year-old Josue, suddenly became very sick. Doctors at a Spanish hospital discovered he had a brain tumor but were unable to perform surgery. They told Rigueiro and her husband Pablo Rigueiro that Josue’s outlook was grim.

“I remember my husband telling me when this all started- I told him, ‘I don’t want Josue to die.’ And he responded, ‘He isn’t our son. God has just given him to us for a time,'” Karen Rigueiro said.

But it turned out that time wasn’t up just yet. A private plane owned by the DeVos family happened to be in nearby Madrid and the family had heard about Josue through their church in Grand Rapids.

Karen Rigueiro remembers her father receiving a call from a member of the DeVos family.

“(He) told him, ‘If your daughter can be ready within 24 hours, we will fly your grandson home, and your daughter, so that he can get the care that he needs,'” she said.

In December 1996, Josue was flown to the Helen DeVos Women and Children’s Medical Center at Butterworth Hospital — the precursor to the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital — where doctors were able to perform surgery.

Photo: Josue Rigueiro after surgery to remove a brain tumor. (December 1996, courtesy family)

The Rigueiros credit the DeVos family for saving their son’s life.

“God was moving in their hearts. And they saw the need of a child to be healed, for a child to have an opportunity to live,” Karen Rigueiro said.

“I don’t know if I can even express how grateful I am to them,” Josue Rigueiro, who recently celebrated his 30th birthday, told 24 Hour News 8 Saturday.

In a way, he expresses his gratitude each day at work. He’s a financial coordinator at the Richard DeVos Heart and Lung Transplant Program in Grand Rapids.

“Once I was helped by the DeVoses, now I’m able to help patients,” he said.

Given how Helen DeVos has impact their lives, the Rigueiros were saddened to hear of her death. The West Michigan philanthropist died Wednesday at the age of 90 due to complications from a recent stroke.

>>Inside Helen DeVos funeral arrangements

The Rigueiro family will be among those attending Helen DeVos’s public visitation on Monday. They believe paying their respects is the least they can do.

“I am so grateful for Helen DeVos. Her vision, her love for children, their sacrificial giving. It has impacted thousands and thousands of lives,” Karen Rigueiro said.

DeVos was laid to rest at the family’s Memorial Gardens in Ada Saturday. A celebration of life is scheduled for Tuesday; it is private, but will be simulcast at the JW Marriott’s International Ballroom from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. It will be followed by a public reception at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.