Silver Alert resolved when Iredell County man found at Salisbury VA

Published 12:03 am Thursday, October 26, 2017

SALISBURY — With a bit of teamwork, employees at the Salisbury VA Medical Center on Monday resolved a Silver Alert for a missing Iredell County man.

Three hours after the Silver Alert was issued Monday, employees found 70-year-old Louis Henry Hesser sitting at a bus shelter at the W.G. “Bill” Hefner VA Medical Center. It’s unclear exactly how Louis, who lives in the northern Iredell town of Harmony, got to the hospital, but family members and VA employees believe he walked nearly 27 miles over two days.

Hesser, who has trouble speaking, didn’t appear disheveled or distressed when found, said Chief Veteran Experience Officer Tara Manis-Healy. He just wanted his eyes checked, said social worker Susan Carlton.

“He knew to come to the VA for care, and he knew how to get here,” Carlton said.

Hesser, a 70-year-old Navy veteran, disappeared Sunday morning. Daughter-in-law Jenny Hesser said he occasionally goes for walks, so it was not concerning, initially, that he was not home.

Hours later, Hesser’s absence became worrisome, Jenny Hesser said. Family and emergency personnel searched for him, she said. At one point, family members drove toward the Hefner VA center but stopped short of completing the journey because they did not think Hesser would have walked the entire distance.

At 4:55 a.m. Sunday, the N.C. Center for Missing Persons issued a Silver Alert for Hesser. The alert said he was believed to be suffering from dementia or another cognitive impairment. Family members said he had suffered a stroke.

Manis-Healy wasn’t aware of the Silver Alert when she passed by the bus shelter where Hesser sat Monday morning. She noticed a man was sitting in the bus shelter, but that did not immediately cause concern.

But Manis-Healy said it was odd that Hesser remained at the bus shelter after she got out of a morning meeting that lasted 20 to 30 minutes.

“It was unusual because the shuttle picks up every 10 minutes or so,” she said. “Often, a wife might go across the street to get the car and leave the veteran standing there, but that wouldn’t have taken 20 minutes. … That’s what caught my eye. He was still standing there, and something seemed off.”

She asked Hesser a few questions and noticed his difficulty speaking. Eventually, Manis-Healy and Hesser moved the conversation to her office, in an adjacent building. Using a piece of paper with his name written on it, Manis-Healy looked up Hesser’s VA records. After determining that he needed a more thorough evaluation, she called Carlton.

Carlton reviewed Hesser’s medical records. She noticed that he usually visits the VA with family members. She also determined that he had walked to Salisbury from Iredell County.

“I just had to go through his chart and find who I could call for transportation,” she said.

After two attempts, she reached Hesser’s daughter-in-law Jenny, who told her she was relieved that he had been found.

Jenny Hesser said her father-in-law walks about 2 miles in an hour and a half. So it’s plausible that he walked from his home in Harmony to Salisbury, she said.

She said Hesser is diabetic and may not have eaten from the time he left home to when he arrived at the Hefner Medical Center. He put a change of clothes in a backpack and did not pack any food, she said. VA staff members gave Hesser crackers and coffee. Pharmacists at the VA also looked to see whether he needed any prescriptions filled.

After receiving the call about Hesser’s whereabouts, Jenny Hesser went to the VA in short order. She said a firefighter who helped in an overnight search for Hesser accompanied her.

Jenny Hesser said she has not been able to talk to Hesser about the experience because of his trouble communicating, but he’s behaving normally.

Meanwhile, to help with future incidents, VA police dispatcher Deborah Staley recommended that veterans have photo identification, such as VA ID cards, in their possession at all times.

Contact reporter Josh Bergeron at 704-797-4246.