When Matthew Giovanniello's grandmother had a paralyzing stroke in 2008, he knew he had to find a way to communicate with her. They had always been close -- Theresa Giovanniello cooked a big lasagna dinner for his family and they saw her almost every weekend.
But after her stroke, Matthew, who at the time was in the seventh grade, noticed that in therapy she failed to respond to flashcards of stick figures and random clip art of houses and cars. He designed a PowerPoint computer program that included photos of family members and his grandmother's home and dog.
"After making it very personal, she was starting to progress," said Giovanniello, now 17 and a senior at South Side High School in Rockville Centre.
That was the start of a yearslong effort that led Giovanniello, of Rockville Centre, to develop a computer software program called "Grey Matter Technology." His work associated with the program led him to be named an Intel Science Talent Search semifinalist earlier this year, and he now is awaiting final patent approval for the software. He plans to continue perfecting the program when he attends Boston College in the fall.
"It is, in a word, extraordinary," South Side Principal Carol Burris said of the computer program.
His father, Anthony, is a psychiatrist, and his mother, Denise, is a pediatric nurse. Giovanniello thought he, too, would work in health care. But in elementary school, he discovered an interest in computers and technology.
He designed his own computer games and a gaming website in the sixth grade. He further developed the PowerPoint program for his grandmother's recovery to run on a desktop or tablet and enabled it to include personal information to help those with brain injuries. Loved ones can upload personal photos, music and even customize the background to patients' favorite colors to create a more individualized approach to their rehabilitation.
The program would be initiated at the hospital and then could be continued as therapy at home. Giovanniello said his grandmother, who is in her mid-80s now, can respond to questions and speak sentences.
"The goal of my program was to help stroke patients, or people with dementia or little kids suffering from a traumatic brain injury to recover as much information they lost as possible and regain the independent life that they once had," he said.
And that's not all. Giovanniello -- who plays in his school's wind ensemble and will receive an International Baccalaureate diploma -- and three classmates have developed an online interactive tutoring website for South Side students, and he tutors English Language Learner students.
"There is no limit to what Matt will do to increase his academic intelligence and expand his mind," Burris said.
Giovanniello will attend Boston College, where he plans to major in information systems.
FRESHMAN FAST FORWARD
"I have been working on a program since the seventh grade -- for the past 5½ years. I am looking forward to bringing that to life while I am at Boston College."
WHAT MAKES YOU EXTRAORDINARY
"One of my biggest accomplishments involves a computer program used to assist neurologically impaired patients."