CARY, N.C. (WNCN) – Imagine graduating high school, years before COVID-19, and getting ready to go to college only to suffer a major stroke and have your life changed forever. That’s what happened to Austin Harrell seven years ago, but he continues to try and get better each day with the help of family, friends, the medical community, and the Triangle Aphasia Project.

In July of 2013, a massive stroke left Austin paralyzed on the right side of his body and after four months of specialized therapy in Atlanta, he returned to North Carolina to start over.

Austin had to learn to sit up, walk, and balance again, in addition to learning how to talk again because he had Aphasia.

Austin is now 25 years old and one of an estimated two to 4 million people in the United States who have Aphasia after suffering some kind of brain trauma.

Maura Silverman, founder and executive director of the Triangle Aphasia Project Unlimited, describes it like this: “Think of it as a file cabinet of all the words that you associate with things. So, it’s reading, writing, listening and speaking and then that filing cabinet kind of gets tips upside down.”

The Triangle Aphasia Project Unlimited is the CBS 17 3-Degree Guarantee charity for July 2020.

Aphasia is a communication disorder that does not impact intelligence or memory, rather a person’s ability to use language in the forms of speech, writing, reading and listening.

Aphasia results primarily from stroke, brain injury or tumor, and less frequently as part of a progressive disease.

Aphasia may cause social isolation, loss of community and engagement in recreational, vocational, and avocational pursuits.

Seven years after his stroke, Austin spends a couple hours each day working on improving his communication while he is working on his degree from Liberty University. The online coursework is perfect because he can work at his own pace. His reading and writing were more maintained after his stroke than his speech and listening.

Between his PT, OT and speech therapy, Austin finds time to still play his favorite sport, soccer, and work a few jigsaw puzzles…and if that’s not enough, he has ran a 5K race just one year after he was in a wheelchair.

Aphasia may not be commonly known, but it has affected people like former congress woman Gabby Giffords and country singer Randy Travis. Each patient’s communication is impacted differently.

Every month, CBS 17 picks a different local charity to raise money and awareness for during the daily 3-Degree Guarantee. Each day when the CBS 17 Storm Team gets the next day’s forecast correct within three degrees, we donate $100 to that charity. At the end of the month, all the money raised is totaled and presented to that month’s group.

If you would like to learn more about The Triangle Aphasia Project, please check out their website.