You may not know Megan Hepworth, but she might save your life someday. She is a Utah Valley University student, working on a Bachelor of Science degree in respiratory therapy.

“I initially was going to be a nurse,” she said. “For a long, long time that was my plan. A few life-changing events happened. I applied to the nursing program and didn’t get in. I was pretty devastated at first.”

She talked with her adviser and to Peggy Pasin, a counselor in the Women’s Success Center. They discussed other options that were available, including respiratory therapy.

“I kind of dug deep into it, looking what I would do and the responsibilities involved. I was intrigued,” Hepworth said.

Her next dilemma, though also a compliment, came when she applied to both of the programs and got accepted to both. After more research and analysis, she chose respiratory therapy.

“I haven’t regretted my decision one ounce,” she said. “I am very happy with the respiratory therapy program.”

She will be graduating in August with the second cohort of students in the program. The first cohort had a 100% pass rate on national certification tests.

“The professors worked hard to have us succeed,” she said. “All of our instructors have really put in time and effort to make it a really good program.”

Respiratory therapists travel throughout the hospital, taking care of newborns all the way up through those facing the end of their lives, she said.

“It has been beyond rewarding being involved and making an impact on patients and being the patients’ advocate,” she said.

A nontraditional student, she is a single parent with three children.

“When I walked onto UVU’s campus I was terrified,” she said. “I walked back to my car and had to convince myself to go back. I made the decision, went back and registered for my first set of classes. I had to start from scratch.”

Attending UVU wasn’t the only change she made in her life during that time.

“Leaving a fairly dysfunctional marriage was not an easy thing,” she said. “I lived in another state at the time. I had the realization I was no longer in a good place for me and my kids. I moved in with my mom. We lost my dad the year before I separated from my ex-husband. Moving back was tumultuous, blending mom’s home and everything. Shortly after we moved here, we had testing done for my oldest and determined he is highly functioning autistic. UVU helped us get the services we needed.”

The family made the numerous adjustments.

“We do what we have got to do to survive,” she said.

She has been attending school full time for four and a half years, with assistance from UVU’s Wee Care Center in making childcare available.

“The Wee Care Center was amazing and I couldn’t be more grateful for the Women’s Success Center at UVU, with their knowledge and ability to help, listen and guide,” she said. She also paid tribute to members of the respiratory therapy department and other assistance she has received.

“I am even more blessed because I have been able to do all of my schooling up to this point through grants and scholarships,” she said. She does yard work and home maintenance for her mom instead of paying rent. “I have an amazing support network including family and community.”

Hepworth is looking to give back to her community. As part of an internship, she is doing research about the risk of opioid use and the need for appropriate monitoring.

“Our hope is that we can help prevent the tragedy that has become too commonplace of losing someone to respiratory failure brought on by opioid use given by prescription,” she said. “We are not talking about only opioid addition, but even those who are taking this prescription for the first time... I am working closely with the lead researchers to learn as much as possible throughout the study process. I will be presenting my experience of being involved in this research as a student and lead intern at the Utah Society of Respiratory Care in July and the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) International Congress in November.”

Hepworth said she is happy she took the steps to return to campus to begin her higher education path.