Yonkouski volunteers to help others through difficult recoveries

Scott Yonkouski, Patient Liaison Volunteer, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

Scott Yonkouski was so appreciative of the brain-tumor care he received, that he signed up to be a volunteer in the same department he was treated.

What sparked your interest in volunteer work at UCLA Health?
In April of 2008, I underwent surgery at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to remove a baseball-sized, noncancerous brain tumor. During my 10-day stay, I was blown away by the personalized care and attention provided by the doctors, nurses, staff and volunteers.

In September of 2010, I had my second surgery to remove a new tumor. Again, I received outstanding care. I decided then that I wanted to be a part of what makes UCLA Health great. I wanted to give back in some way to those who helped me during my time of need.

I offered to become a patient liaison volunteer through the Office of the Patient Experience because I can relate to what many of the patients and their families are going through, especially those in the neurological trauma unit. I thought it would be helpful for them to see that even though things might look bleak today, a full life is still attainable.

What is your role as a UCLA Health volunteer?
I try to visit all patient rooms in the neuroscience, hematology and stem-cell transplant units during my four-hour volunteer shift every Monday. Sometimes, I just drop off magazines or books for patients or family members.
I don’t always bring up my medical past, but the surgical scars on my bald head often spark questions. In December of 2014, I underwent radiation therapy to treat a third tumor. I share my experiences about my surgeries, radiation therapy and the recovery process.

I lost a lot of strength and balance after the surgeries. I talk to patients and families about what types of exercise and rehabilitation therapy helped me. I have a fitness consulting background, so I’m able to offer both a personal and professional perspective on the recovery process.

I also volunteer at the hospital through the No One Dies Alone (NODA) program. I’ll sit with patients at the end stages of life who don’t have family or friends who can be with them. Sometimes we talk. Often, I’m more of a comforting presence.

What is the best part of your work?
The best part is definitely interacting with the patients and their families. It’s great to see patients improving and positively responding to treatments, both physically and emotionally. I’ve made some great connections with patients and family members. People often stay in touch after they are discharged and let me know how they’re doing.

What is the hardest part of your work?
Everyone’s medical situation is unique, and sometimes people don’t recover the same way I have. The chemotherapy treatments can be hard on patients and their loved ones, and some patients do not respond to the treatment as hoped.

What are some of your outside interests and hobbies?
I own and run a personal training and fitness consulting business. My fitness background was a tremendous help when I was working to regain my balance, strength and stamina after the surgeries.

I learned a lot throughout my treatment and recovery process. I decided to share this knowledge in a book called Brain Matters, currently in its editing phase. I hope that this partly autobiographical book helps and inspires those dealing with brain tumors.

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