Guiding Force

Written by Lauren B. Johnson
Photographs by Mira Adwell

Born in a town without a library (and in a country without a university), internist Lloyd Hepburn, MD, has forged his own way in life—with spectacular results

Stepping in line to enter the newly constructed library, 6-year-old Lloyd Hepburn couldn’t have realized that he’d just set in motion the chain of events that would carry him to one of America’s most prestigious medical universities and a decades-long career in internal medicine. The newly constructed biblioteca, the first for his small hometown in the upper reaches of what is now Belize, opened to the young boy an endless supply of knowledge that previously felt unattainable. “In those days [the early 1960s], there was not one university in all of British Honduras,” says Dr. Hepburn. “After a few months, I’d read all of the children’s books, so the librarian pointed me to the adult section,” he recalls, still a bit in awe at the memory. “That day, my life took on a different trajectory.”

Shortly after graduating from high school, Dr. Hepburn and his family moved to the U.S., joining relatives in Chicago. “Like most immigrants, we wanted a better life,” he says. While his mother and father never made it further than primary grades, Dr. Hepburn was determined to go to college. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and a master’s in physiology from Southern Illinois University before applying to every medical school in the Midwest—plus one other, on the advice of a friend. Choosing to attend Stanford wasn’t difficult, though Dr. Hepburn admits that the leading institution’s academic reputation was the second factor in his decision; the California climate struck him first. “It’s hard not to choose Northern California when the sky is blue, the hills are green and there’s an 80-degree temperature difference from snow-covered Illinois,” he laughs.

In addition to the temperate climes, Stanford also allowed the med student to conduct diabetes research under renowned professor Dr. Gerald Reaven, the scientist later credited with identifying metabolic syndrome. That experience solidified Dr. Hepburn’s professional focus, though he’d long held a personal interest in metabolic syndrome and its associated risks. “All of my first-degree relatives have diabetes—every last one—and my youngest brother died from morbid obesity,” says Dr. Hepburn. “I have those genes and was always a chunky kid, so it’s a concern I face daily.”

FAMILY TIME: Dr. Lloyd Hepburn (front center) with his family (from left): son William; son Zachary; wife, Joan; and daughter, Alexandra.

The doctor’s genuine empathy for those facing minor and major health problems, coupled with his gregarious personality, has garnered him a loyal patient base since opening his North Charleston practice more than two decades ago. Upon completing his residency at Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown University and getting married, the young doctor and his wife, Joan, an ICU nurse originally from Opelousas, Louisiana, moved to West Ashley in 1995. “We saw opportunity here—more so than in D.C.—for a doctor to hangout his shingle,” explains the board certified internist.

Dr. Hepburn, 61, views his primary care role as two-pronged—helping patients get healthy and helping patients stay healthy. “My image of a doctor has always been that of a family physician caring for people on an everyday basis and seeing them through the medical pitfalls of life,” he says. And for the past 25 years, he’s stayed that course, guiding patients to live their best lives, mentally, physically and emotionally.

“I’ve aged alongside my patients, which is kind of nice,” he says. “I try to practice what I preach.” That means maintaining a diet more in keeping with our hunter-gatherer predecessors than modern-day convenience shoppers. “Our ancestors ate leaves, tubers, nuts and grains; they didn’t have access to the carbs, salts, fats and sugars that we do now. For the first time in human history, we don’t have to worry about where our next meal will come from,” observes the amateur historian, who these days feeds his thirst for knowledge with history periodicals and publications.

The doctor also aims to stay active as he goes about his business. “It’s great to work out for an hour each day, but there are 24 hours in a day—what are you doing with the other 23?” he often asks patients. In response, he moves as much as he can, standing to write patient charts, walking around the office and exercising almost daily. As he’s gotten older, his go-to workouts have evolved as well, from running, “until my knees couldn’t take it,” to walking, “until my feet started protesting,” and finally cycling, “which is easier on the joints.” The doctor’s current regimen involves biking four times a week, covering a total of more than 100 miles, plus two days of weights and yoga.

As a member of Coastal Cyclists, Dr. Hepburn participates in group rides across the Lowcountry, though his favorite is the Sunday cruise through Mount Pleasant’s Old Village, over the Ravenel Bridge and back around the islands. “We ride hard, anywhere from 20 to 25 miles per hour,” he says. The doctor relishes the endorphin rush that vigorous exercise delivers, but he also loves the camaraderie. “Men especially tend to ignore the social aspect of life. I find that belonging to a club provides that interaction we all need.”

Dr. Hepburn and Joan on vacation in 2019, during which they biked their way through the Netherlands and Belgium.

While Dr. Hepburn keeps his eyes trained on the road in front of him, his route hasn’t always been so straightforward. When he and Joan became parents 22 years ago, their path veered from what the pair had first envisioned. “It was immediately clear when Zachary was born that there was something amiss,” he says. Extensive testing revealed that their son had a chromosomal abnormality known as 8p duplication, a condition that causes severe physical and mental deficits. Despite the shock, the young couple leaned happily into life as a family of three. And within three years, they welcomed two more children into the fold: daughter Alexandra (21) and son William (19). Both Alexandra and William attend university but have always been incredibly close with and protective of their older brother. “In an interesting way, Zachary’s disability has made us a stronger family,” he reflects.

They’re a close-knit bunch that enjoys spending as much time together as their schedules allow, including, on especially clear nights, rendezvous out in nature to star gaze. “From time to time we’ll trek into Francis Marion National Forest with my eight-inch reflecting telescope to observe the cosmos,” says Dr. Hepburn, who considers himself an amateur astronomer and enjoys teaching his children to locate various constellations and deep sky objects such as the Andromeda galaxy. It’s a hobby that can keep anyone grounded, he says. “It reminds me of the insignificant nature of our existence on this little speck called Earth.”

Dr. Lloyd Hepburn
Specialty: Internal Medicine
Practice: Roper St. Francis Physician Partners Primary Care
Outside the office find him: On long bike rides with Coastal Cyclists, spending time with his family and observing the cosmos through his telescope