During the week, registered nurse Ryan Hepworth helps facilitate and monitor patient care as the Ambulatory Clinical Informatics Coordinator for Northside Hospital.
But on weekends, former Army Combat Nurse Medic offers healing help of a different nature.
In 2016, Hepworth started a nonprofit called Shadow Warrior Foundation to help homeless veterans obtain shelter, apply for military benefits and even find a job. He saw that many veterans were battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical health issues. Every weekend, he and his team of volunteers put boots on the ground to find these vets, searching through metro Atlanta parks, underpasses and woods.
“We’ll ask them if they’re ready to get off the streets, and, if they’re not, we’ll give them some supplies and leave our card so they can call us when they’re ready,” Hepworth said. “This is by no means a handout but a hand up.”
Many times, Hepworth uses his nursing background by wrapping wounds or diagnosing more serious medical problems.
Northside has been a foundation supporter from the beginning, Hepworth said. Most recently, employees collected donations of winter gear like tents, sleeping bags, and blankets for distribution to homeless vets.
In nominating Hepworth for Celebrating Nurses 2020, co-worker Jacklyn Hull said“Ryan’s heart is and always will be a veteran.”
“This is why Ryan and his brothers go out on weekends into the places most avoid. Not the pretty, warm, homey places most of us wake up in, but the humble places our heroes huddle in all sorts of weather,” Hull said.
Hepworth, who is from Alabama, joined the military while attending nursing school in Oklahoma. He got his start in critical care nursing, then was deployed by the military as an Army Combat Nurse Medic. He was part of a battlefront trauma unit in Afghanistan.
“We saved a lot of lives. Unfortunately, we lost quite a few, too,” Hepworth said.
In 2015, Hepworth was medically discharged from the Army after sustaining a broken neck and back. He and his wife were living in Hawaii when Northside Hospital recruited him.
Hepworth said his current position is “a nice change of pace” from his combat service.
“With battlefield medicine, you have to adapt mentally. You see things, and you have to push through, then walk away so that others see you as a solid leader. This job is a mind-rest. I’m very fortunate and very blessed to have the position I have now,” he said.
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