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Former Patient Takes the Field to Benefit Hospital that Helped Him

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When Dan Hepworth puts on his football helmet and runs onto the field at Jerome High School’s Tiger Stadium, it might hard to imagine the difficult medical journey he made to get to the North-South Shrine Game. Though today he runs, blocks and tackles with no problems, that might not have always been the case. The all-star senior from Murtaugh was born with severe clubfoot, a condition that caused his feet to turn inward and appear upside down. Dan’s older sister, Delanie, had the same condition, so when he was just four days old, Dan’s mother knew where to turn for help--Shriners Hospital for Children in Salt Lake City.

Dan underwent his first major surgery on both feet when he was three months old. As his mother Shala stood in the hallway waiting for the procedure to begin, anxiety overwhelmed her.  That’s when the surgeon wrapped his arm around her and said, “I will treat him like he was one of my own children.” Shala’s anxiety over the procedure melted away, as did her concern about any mounting medical bills. All care at Shriners Hospital is provided at no cost to patients or families, regardless of their ability to pay.

As Dan grew older he needed three more surgeries and countless clinic appointments. Shala says people often asked her why she didn’t get a second opinion. She never questioned the care her children received at Shriners Hospital--or the results.

“My children grew up running, laughing and able to ride their bikes.  We’ll never be able to give back anything that would compare with the gift we received from Shriners Hospital.”

Shala says both of her children are better people for having been patients at the hospital that serves more than 500 Idaho children each year.  She says the compassionate care affected them mentally as well as physically,

“You can’t feel sorry for yourself when you walk into the hospital and see children with unimaginable obstacles that are just happy to be there,” she says.

 Left untreated, Dan’s clubfoot would have left him with a serious disability and no chance for reaching his athletic or academic goals.  Instead, Dan says his treatment gave him a much clearer perspective.

“I see things different, I’m a lot more grateful for my ability to walk.”

 Dan competed on track and basketball teams throughout high school, but his real passion is football. He started playing as a seventh grader, and now the tight end/defensive end is salutatorian of his graduating class. Dan plans to study history at the College of Southern Idaho and eventually wants to teach. In the meantime, he’ll mentor his younger teammates as an assistant coach at Murtaugh next year.

For his final game, Dan says he’s glad he’ll be on the field giving back to the hospital that made it possible for him to play.

“This is the last time I’ll ever get to play football. I want to make the most of it.”

The 32nd Annual North-South All-Star Shrine Football Game will be played Monday, June 1 at Jerome High School Tiger Stadium. The 8-man game starts at 5:30 p.m. with the 11-man game kicking off around 8:00 p.m. Tickets are available at the gate for $5 with all proceeds benefiting Shriners Hospitals for Children.