Know Your Heroes: Yu-Yan Poon

Know Your Heroes showcases the many different people and roles that make up #TeamUHN. We celebrate these people, who strive to make the world a healthier place every day.

Name: Yu-Yan Poon   
Title: RN, Clinic Nurse/Research Coordinator at Toronto Western Hospital’s Morton & Gloria Shulman Movement Disorders Clinic
# of years working in health care: 24
Hometown: I was born and raised in Hong Kong, then moved to Montreal as a teenager

I decided to get into health care because, as a Chinese immigrant, the only two career options I was given by my parents were: health care or engineering. Since I am a female, I was told health care would be a better option. Despite the fact that I did not choose my career, I strongly believe that health care chose me and I love what I do. It is my destiny.

My role here at UHN is: clinical trial coordinator and clinic nurse at Toronto Western Hospital’s Movement Disorders Clinic. The coordination of clinical trials involves working with different pharmaceutical companies and evaluating granting agencies to protect the well-being of our patients. I advocate for our patients to protect their safety and rights. During clinic visits, I spend a lot of time providing education on disease management and counselling to patients and their families. While working on finding a cure for movement disorders thorough clinical trials, I help teach patients to live with the disease and to overcome their day-to-day challenges.

COVID-19 has affected me by: putting me in my patients’ shoes. At the end of last year, my grandmother, who was very dear to me, suffered a hip fracture and passed away of heart failure. I travelled to Montreal multiple times by train to spend time with her before she passed. She was a social person, and was put into isolation numerous times. When I was not there, she would be alone in her room, without any contact with the rest of the world, unable to communicate with any of the hospital staff. I tried to call her as many times as I could to let her know that my family and I cared for her. At the end, when she was deemed palliative, I was allowed to spend as much time with her as I wanted – as long as I stayed in the room. I was in isolation with her for three days, which was physically and mentally challenging.

This experience is similar to what many of our patients go through who travel long distances to visit the Movement Disorders Clinic. Their physical disability prevents them from leaving their house, and COVID-19 prevents them from seeing their loves ones who are essential for their mental health and well-being. The amount of strength they have to endure in this difficult period is extraordinary.  

The thing I love the most about my job is: the opportunity to interact with so many different people and learn from them. The human mind is flexible; my patients develop strategies to overcome the disabilities caused by their disorders, and I am fortunate to be able to pass on this knowledge to other patients. I work with fellows and staff physicians who come from different corners of the world, bringing in different perspective and life experiences.

The most incredible thing I’ve seen at work is: a little boy “running” to the scale to measure his height. This boy suffered from a genetic form of movement disorder which prevented him from walking, so he was much shorter than most boys his age. After he received his deep brain stimulation treatment, he was able to walk. As clinicians, we observed his movement, the way he used his hands, etc., but all he cared about was his height. He was so excited he had grown taller since his last visit. It taught me a very important lesson: what is important to us might not be important to our patients.

I’m inspired by:
people’s creativity. Creativity can be expressed in many different ways and forms. A beautifully decorated walker to lift up people’s spirits; a new way to cook a meal or a new scientific invention. These all come from our creativity.  

One of my personal heroes is: my grandmother because she could always see the positive side of things no matter how hard life was. She showed me how to be content with what we have and make the best of it.

I sometimes worry about: the mental health of our community. I am not sure if people will bounce back after the pandemic. We will never be the same. I hope this experience will make us more resilient.

I’ve found joy recently from: watching dogs play. I live next door to a dog park, and I walk there with my five-year-old boy on Saturday and Sunday mornings. There are no boundaries or discrimination among dogs. They look so different from each other and their interaction with each other is so beautiful.  

My favourite movie is: Billy Elliot because it is not just about a boy following his dream, it is also about how each character faces their own life challenges. We all have struggles, and it is up to us to find our strength to figure it out.

My ideal day off is: sitting on the cottage porch, watching snow fall over the frozen lake with a nice fire and a cup of coffee.


Will you Give a Shift?
Over the past year, healthcare workers have risen to the challenge facing COVID-19. Now it’s your turn. Join this first-of-its-kind fundraising event!

Support our healthcare heroes and register now for UHN’s Give a Shift.

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