​​​​Image of Jerry Catalfo
Former patient Jerry Catalfo is now a volunteer at Toronto Western Hospital. (Photo: Volunteer Resources)

On February 8, 2013, Jerry Catalfo went through one of the most difficult moments of his life – brain surgery.

His decision to have surgery with Dr. Taufik Valiante at Toronto Western Hospital was one of the toughest choices he has ever had to make.

"I had spoken with patients, neurologists and neurosurgeons for almost eight years before finally deciding to have surgery," Jerry says. "As a husband and a father, I knew this decision would impact not only my life but the lives of my family."

​National Volunteer Week
​April 12-18, 2015

A history of seizures

Jerry has epilepsy.

He has been suffering from seizures since he was born. His earliest recollection of one was when he was 12 years old.

"Early on I would have one or two seizures a year. However, my seizures became noticeably worse when I turned 33," he remembers. "The stress at work continued to escalate. By the time our second child was born, I was having tonic-clonic seizures in the office. So I started working primarily from home."

In 2006, Jerry says he had the worst seizure of his life and ended up in the hospital for five days.

"Once I was released I started to consider having surgery. I had spent most of my life shying away from it," he says. "Parts of it scared me.  But I knew that my seizures would only get worse as I got older. The reality was that there was a good chance that surgery would help improve the quality of my life".

Jerry evaluated both the pros and cons of surgery and decided to focus on the pros.

A life-altering decision

While under the care of the Epilepsy Program at Toronto Western's Krembil Neuroscience Centre, Jerry was treated by an army of specialists to get him ready for surgery. His life changed for the better the day the operation was performed. 

"After surgery, it was difficult to read a book, watch TV or a movie, or remember the names of various things such as fruits or vegetables.  I could visualize the name, but I could not say it," he remembers.

Rehabilitating took him nearly a year, and he knew he had made the right decision.

With each successive appointment in the Epilepsy Clinic, the idea of volunteering at the hospital that had changed his life started to take shape.

A natural fit

Jerry wanted to do something with the extra time he had and make a difference in other patients' lives.

His decision to volunteer in the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit (E.M.U) came after several conversations with the Volunteer Resources program coordinator at Toronto Western, Claudia Ortins. It was a natural fit.

After initial orientation and training, Jerry started volunteering in the E.M.U. unit in February 2014. During his visits, he talks to patients who are going through what he went through two years ago. He has been able to connect with them on both an emotional and psychological level, helping to alleviate any stress they may have about what comes next after they leave the hospital.

Jerry has found that many patients are more comfortable asking him questions, knowing he has gone through what they have gone through or will go through. They are not always comfortable posing those same questions to doctors or nurses.

Through his experiences, Jerry has learned to accept what he has, to accept the good days and the bad days. This acceptance, along with support from his friends and family, has allowed him to live the life he wants.

In the next few months, Jerry says he will try his hand at musical therapy for patients, continuing along the path of giving back to the hospital that gave him a new zest at life.

Volunteer via Twitter using #NVWUHN2015 between April 12-April 18 or leave a message on our Facebook page. To learn more about National Volunteer Week, click here​.

Thank you to all the staff supervisors who support our volunteers and offer them meaningful and rich experiences. Have you thanked a volunteer today? As part of this year's Volunteer Week, you can. ​To learn more about having a volunteer work with your department/program, please connect with your site Volunteer Resources team​.

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