Recovery and reciprocity

teen’s Eagle Scout garden benches punctuate stroke rehabilitation

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Out of an extremely rare health emergency came an inspiring recovery and an enduring Eagle Scout project.

Williston’s Matthew Yandow, a varsity football player for Champlain Valley Union High School, took an awkward tumble last October during a Friday night game in Middlebury. Somehow, his shoulder pad was pushed with enough pressure on his carotid artery in his neck to cause a blood clot. 

He felt worse throughout the following day, and by Sunday morning could barely move and couldn’t speak. His parents, Mark and Amy Yandow, heard him fall out of bed and struggle to open his bedroom door. They rushed to check on him.

“There he was in the hallway,” Mark said, “clinging to the wall because he couldn’t stand up. He couldn’t talk. It was like he was staring right through me.” 

At the UVM Medical Center it was revealed that Yandow was having a stroke. 

“It was pretty scary, and it all happened really fast,” he said. 

Yandow was helicoptered to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, where he was operated on and stabilized. His path to recovery took him to the Fanny Allen campus of the UVM Medical Center in Colchester. There he spent most of November and into December as an in-house patient doing intensive physical and occupational therapy. 

During those late fall days, Yandow found himself drawn to the community gardens behind the Fanny Allen buildings. The gardens are a project of the UVM Medical Center’s Nutritional Services. The raised beds are the site of nutritional, culinary and gardening classes for hospital staff and community members. They are also a place for patients recovering from illness and injuries to take a respite from the walls, hallways and stairwells of Fanny Allen. 

Yandow enjoyed the gardens, but discovered a way he could make them better. 

A Boy Scout for the past nine years, Yandow had been searching for a community enhancement that could serve as his Eagle Scout project — something he could do with younger scouts as a lesson in leadership and service. Building benches for a seating area in the gardens became the perfect idea. 

On Tuesday, Yandow presented four benches he and younger members of Williston’s Boy Scout Troop built to Fanny Allen and placed them in the gardens. 

“I spent a good amount of time out here,” he said. “I wanted to make it a better place. I hope it’s beneficial for staff and other patients.”

“It was something we hadn’t gotten to, and Matt has taken care of it,” said UVM Medical Center Garden Educator Lisa Hoare. 

Ten months from the stroke, Yandow shows no outward signs of impairment, but he continues to experience fatigue and hand trembling. He and his parents credit the CVU and Williston communities for offering support that has helped them through the ordeal, and varsity football coach Rahn Fleming for inspiring a “never give up” attitude that has been the foundation of Yandow’s recovery.

Yandow is committed to returning to athletics. Had it not been for the pandemic, he would have played spring baseball this year as a junior. Entering his senior year, he is hoping to play spring baseball in 2021. 

“I’m still making improvements every day,” he said. 

“It is amazing what he has accomplished,” his dad, Mark, said. “I couldn’t be more proud of him. To complete his career as a Scout is icing on the cake for everything he’s been through.”