Inside Track: Using tragedy to help others
Gabriel Grant uses personal home care experience to start his own home health care business.
Gabriel Grant had just graduated high school with plans to attend Michigan State University when a car crash changed everything.
With dreams of becoming an athlete, he was set to start school at Grand Rapids Community College and transfer to MSU, with a promise of paid tuition from mentor and former MSU and professional basketball player Steve Smith.
Grant was riding in the front passenger seat with two friends, on their way to Buffalo Wild Wings, when a tire blew and caused the accident in 2009.
“I remember all the flips,” Grant said.
His friends dragged him from the car and waited for an ambulance.
Grant awoke confused in the trauma bay of the Spectrum Health Butterworth Hospital emergency room, where he also worked cleaning and sanitizing rooms.
“Initially, I thought I fell asleep at work,” he said.
A co-worker nurse told him he would be all right, tearing up, and Grant realized where he was.
“So, I kind of knew what was going on, even though nobody was really wanting to tell me.”
After an eight-hour surgery, he learned he was now an incomplete quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down but able to retain some feeling.
He spent a month in ICU, where he dealt with collapsed lungs and a weeklong fever of 107 degrees.
Grant then spent almost a year in inpatient rehabilitation at Mary Free Bed. He said his major achievement there was regaining the ability to stand and walk at a slow pace.
“Thankfully, I can say I walked out of Mary Free Bed. I still use a wheelchair sometimes, but I definitely walk every day,” he said.
From then, he has needed home care for daily activities many take for granted, such as buttoning a shirt.
He said he struggled with the idea of accepting help from caregivers, though, and it took him a while to understand it’s OK to need help.
“Everyone needs help from someone else,” he said. “There's literally no one on this planet who can say, ‘I need no one else’s help.’”
He felt some of the caregivers were the opposite of caring, however. He’s had caregivers steal his belongings, arrive late or not show up at all.
Just after leaving the hospital, he said it was impossible for him to get out of bed on his own, so if someone didn’t show up, he’d have to call his family and wait for them to help. If he had a day of plans, he’d have to cancel them all.
While he was still living at Mary Free Bed, his caregiving company sent him a substitute after the scheduled person didn’t show up.
Grant is 6-foot-2 and about 150 pounds at the time, and the substitute was probably a foot shorter and 50 pounds lighter, he said.
While transferring him from a shower bench to his wheelchair after a shower, she dropped him.
He tried to remain optimistic and asked her to help him up. But she didn’t know how, and she was too small to lift him.
“Probably one of the most embarrassing moments in my life was when she had to call the security guard from Mary Free Bed to come in the room,” he said.
“He was a big, strong guy and he kind of picked me up, and I started crying,” Grant said.
The security guard reassured him, but that’s when Grant said he decided he would start his own home health care company, and that’s when the idea for Care Granted was born.
It’s inevitable someone in a wheelchair will fall, Grant said, but caregivers should be trained on how to manage that.
“Nobody should feel like this,” he said.
The business was just an idea as he spent a couple years attending GRCC and pursuing his dream of being an Olympic athlete.
When he was laying on the table before surgery, he recalls one of the first questions he asked the doctor was whether he would play basketball again.
“He said something to me that kind of stuck with me. He said, ‘Yeah, you'll play again, but we'll just tweak your game a little bit.”
He discovered wheelchair rugby and traveled the country on Mary Free Bed’s team and then played for Arizona University just two years after his accident and then trained with a former track athlete, who he said took his walking to the next level.
He then needed surgery on his ankles, which took him away from that dream for a moment, and he decided it was time to finally pursue his home health care idea.
He formulated ideas for the business and how caregivers would be trained. One idea would be a certainty: He wanted to use his own experience to create a superior company.
Grant said when caregiving companies would try to sell him their services, every representative would say something about how they cannot imagine what he’s experiencing.
Grant does know, and that’s what makes his company different, he said.
“When I come into your house or when I come in with my staff and we sit down and we talk to you, I look you in your eyes because I know exactly how that feels,” he said. “This is my life's work, to say I don't want anyone else to ever feel like how I felt that day when I was crying.”
He learned how to handle medical coding and taught himself how to handle other aspects of the business. His father worked in human resources for Spectrum Health and was able to help him lay out a business plan.
After being denied a bank loan, Grant contacted the Michigan Small Business Development Center, which provides consulting, training and market research for new ventures, existing small businesses and advanced technology companies.
With the SBDC’s help, he secured a line of credit for $40,000, which he set aside for business emergencies. He said he used about 15 percent of the credit.
“And that was something I was extremely proud of because that showed the financial stability of the company. We never really had debt that we couldn't pay off immediately.”
He said the business made a profit in its first year and has made “six figures” in revenue every year.
He now has about 20 employees, including a nurse and other full-time, part-time and per diem employees who work with clients throughout the state. He said his company receives references from hospitals in the region and has worked with Disability Advocates of Kent County.
He said he is in discussions with another company to expand the services.
Grant said he continuously works with the nurse on-staff to better the company and stay up to date on the services it provides, ensuring each caregiver is trained properly and has the compassion to treat clients as people.
"I'm not going to say that any company is perfect, but what I will say is we try our best to never make the same mistake twice,” he said.
Last year, Care Granted was the official accessibility sponsor for ArtPrize and also sponsored Mary Free Bed’s sports teams. Grant just agreed to sponsor sports teams for Union High School, his alma mater.
Grant said he also does consulting and public speaking to help those going through similar experiences. The main purpose for his work is to be an advocate for his community, he said, telling them: “You never are alone. You never have to be alone.”
“This is business, but this isn't business. This is personal,” Grant said. “I genuinely care about every single one of my clients.”