Young Stroke Survivor Celebrates Graduation, Uses Online Classes as Part of His Therapy »Liberty News
Unexpectedly after recovering from a life-threatening stroke, Liberty University graduate Austin Harrell proudly walked across the stage Thursday morning to receive his business-focused Associate of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies.
Harrell’s story with Liberty began nearly nine years ago when, in July 2013, he was weeks away from leaving his home in Cary, North Carolina, to begin his freshman year on campus. A stellar high school football player, the young athlete was training in his backyard when he suddenly suffered a severe stroke. He was rushed to his local hospital, where doctors informed his parents that he needed to be rushed by plane to Duke if he was to have any chance of surviving.
Harrell underwent emergency brain surgery. The stroke had left him paralyzed on the right side of his body and unable to speak or communicate. He was diagnosed with aphasia, a language disorder caused by damage to a specific area of the brain that controls the expression and understanding of language. He remained in intensive care for weeks as doctors were skeptical of his parents’ ability to care for him.
But over the next year and a half, Harrell received physical therapy for four to five hours a day and hit many milestones in his recovery, including being able to walk just 2 miles months after being paralyzed.
The American Heart Association used Austin’s story to help people understand the signs of a stroke.
In 2015, as part of his physical and cognitive therapy, Harrell enrolled in Liberty University’s online programs — taking one course at a time. Thanks to the program, he gradually regained his ability to speak.
“Liberty University has always been my first choice for college,” he said. “The Liberty Online program allowed me to take one class at a time to pursue my goal of graduating from Liberty, and I used the classes to rebuild my language skills after my stroke.”
“We are thrilled that he has achieved a long overdue goal,” said his mother, Susan Harrell. “We didn’t know at first how it was going to go, but we thought getting his tongue back was going to be more meaningful if he had something to work on, a goal he was working toward.”
Although the stroke changed initial plans for his future, Harrell said he saw the hand of the Lord working in powerful ways, something he clung to throughout the uncertainties of his life.
“Since my stroke, I’ve been through a lot of rough and tough times,” he said. “I had to believe that God had a plan for my life and a reason for everything. He taught me to listen to his Word, especially when there are obstacles in my way.
“It took a lot of hard work over seven years to get an associate degree from Liberty,” he added. “When you’re working to recover abilities you’ve lost, it’s so important to have goals you’re achieving. I took one step at a time, and now I’ve reached a milestone and can celebrate the faithfulness to God and years of hard work.
While taking online classes, Harrell was able to work at a coffee shop in his hometown. Her story is part of the reason the non-profit store, Esteamed Coffee, opened; providing employment opportunities for employees with speech, vision and intellectual disabilities. For Austin, this allows him to communicate with the public as part of his linguistic recovery.
“Estteamed Coffee is a blessing from the Lord and has allowed me, as a cashier, to work on my communication and conversation skills,” Harrell said. “Esteamed Coffee’s mission is to provide employment opportunities for people with different abilities in a supportive work environment. I love my job because I can interact with customers, greet them with a smile and help serve them a good cup of coffee. »
Harrell said he will continue to work at the store while looking forward to all the Lord has for his future.
“I have concentrated the majority of my selected courses in business courses, so I hope I can find a position in a support company that will help train me in additional skills to succeed and make a difference for Christ in the business world.”