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Editor’s Note: Philip Austin received the Elaine M. Hill Award for Distinguished Volunteer Service from the UNC Hospitals Board of Directors in 2011, after volunteering in the PM&R clinic for over a year and as a peer mentor for several years. He continues his volunteering to this day. Thank you, Philip!

Philip Austin is recovering from a stroke that rendered the left part of his body partially paralyzed. But most patients coming through the PM&R Outpatient Clinic would never know it.

Austin has been working in the clinic for several years now – as a volunteer.

Maybe that’s why his co-workers always appreciate him, even when he wears his Duke caps.

Philip Austin

Philip Austin

“I had to get my head around doing some work that would really help a lot of people,” Austin notes.

Austin was already volunteering as a stroke mentor when Karla Thompson, PhD, a neuropsychologist in PM&R, thought he could help from time to time in the clinic.

“Philip had been doing an awesome job providing support and encouragement to stroke survivors and other patients on the inpatient unit, but he wanted to do more,” Dr. Thompson recalls. “He clearly had other great skills and a strong desire to use them. We talked about a number of different volunteer opportunities at UNC that would challenge him, improve his confidence in his abilities, and maybe even help to prepare him for return to employment some day.”

Philip carefully considered Dr. Thompson’s advice.

“I got the nerve to ask if I could do something for the clinic,” Austin says. “I started out helping with making phone calls to new patients, one day per week.”

These days, he is making appointments for new and returning patients, and following up with physicians on behalf of patients via clinic notes. As always, he also helps out as a mentor for acute patients and outpatients, when needed. He credits clinic staff members, especially administrative co-workers Kristen Lewis and Miklos “Mike” Harris, for giving him wonderful support on a daily basis.

“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” he says. “Being busy takes the slow parts of my rehabilitation off my mind. For example, my left arm is taking longer for recovery, but I’m getting better results because I’m moving it here at work.” He moves his pinky to show more mobility even in his fingers.

His speaking has improved, too. “It’s not as good as before the stroke, but I know it’s different,” Austin observes. “I can think through questions, enough to know when I don’t really know the answer, and then I refer a patient to Kristen or Mike in the clinic.”

Austin sees himself as a contributor, and not just a fill-in. “Many of the patients come back because I talk to them. I also can use my experience as a former patient, in order to put a new patient at ease.”

His volunteer work helps him as a parent as well. With a daughter at East Carolina University in her senior year, and a son, also a senior and member of the football team at Carrboro High School, Austin spends plenty of time cheering on his children and giving advice. “I am more discerning than before my stroke,” he concludes. “I’m making wiser decisions in the things that affect me and society, such as politics and the economy. I always can see an opportunity, a solution.”

Read more about Philip Austin’s journey to recovery in our stroke issue of the Rehabilitation Reader, in the extended article about our rehabilitation peer mentors.