AUSTIN (KXAN) — Voting is still open for the second annual American Stroke Hero Awards, and a local nonprofit is one of the finalists.
As of Tuesday morning, Austin Speech Labs is still in third place for the Voter’s Choice Hero Award, given by the American Stroke Association. It gained close to 500 votes in the past 24 hours and is sitting at more than 1,500.
However, the organization doesn’t see it as a competition, rather, a teaching opportunity.
“An opportunity to educate our community about what [a] stroke is,” said Shilpa Shamapant, president and co-founder at Austin Speech Labs in north Austin.
Shamapant said the need for speech therapy for stroke survivors is so high that they’ve grown every year since opening.
The local nonprofit started with four clients in 2008 at the Hancock Center but now serves more than 100 clients for every eight-week session in its bigger office close to the Anderson Lane area, near Shoal Creek. The organization provides more than 16,000 hours of speech therapy every year.
The speech lab’s goal is to give clients the opportunity of therapy without being bound by insurance limits or financial burden. Shilpa said private therapy can create a financial burden, especially when insurance runs out.
She remembers before Austin Speech Labs existed, people saying:
“’If a stroke survivor didn’t recover in the first six months or one year, they would never recover again,’ and that’s not true,” she said.
“We never even gave them an opportunity, but now over 12 years, we’ve learned that recovery continues to happen. Learning continues to happen for these people. They just need the therapy for that long term,” she said.
Of the organization’s many services, it offers teletherapy. The online service is offered to clients who are unable to come to the office for therapy, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, all speech therapy is done virtually.
Converting was a challenge, but Shamapant saw a positive in it.
“We’re able to see them in functional environments in their own homes,” she said. “So, we’re able to change therapy in a more functional way, like, ‘Open the fridge and name the items in your fridge.’ The caregivers are able to see how we communicate and help their loved ones get the words out.”
Inside the north Austin office is a wall of clients’ pictures with them holding signs saying what they hope to accomplish through speech therapy. Some read “order coffee,” “keep hunting” or “return to work.”
For Shamapant, it’s a reminder these are people just like everyone else. They are just trying to reclaim a little bit of what was suddenly lost to strokes.
“These are people just like you and I. They are moms, dads, somebody’s brother, somebody’s sibling, sister. They are working professionals. They have young kids. When I ask them what their goals are, some tell me they want to read stories to their grandkids. Some tell me I just want to tell my loved one, ‘I love you.’ They want to get back to work so they can take care of their families again.”
The stroke survivors themselves are “heroes,” Shamapant said.
“To get up every day knowing how hard it is for them, to get that word out, to learn to read again, and going back to day one learning a new language, but yet, they show up and do it every day because they know they can do it. It’s just they need the support system.”
If you’re wondering, yes, there is still time to vote to support Austin Speech Labs. You can visit its website to learn more about its services. You can visit the American Stroke Association’s website to learns more about strokes.