Getting My Voice Back
In 1993, surgery to
remove a benign meningioma resulted in a brainstem stroke. One of my vocal
chords was paralyzed in an open position. Whatever utterances I generated
were breathy and whispery – or, if fatigued, nonexistent.
When my other many deficits had either stabilized or improved, frustration
with my voice – or lack thereof – grew. In social situations I could not be
heard over the normal din of many conversations around me. The resulting
isolation was intolerable. I could not shout, sing, exclaim or be heard. The
only upside was that our three kids told me they liked my soft-spoken-ness
better! That aside, I hated it.
Several folks, including my speech therapist and this site’s Steve Mallory,
told me about a surgery called thyroplasty. They suggested I investigate. (I
have since learned that this is also called laryngeal framework surgery.)
Basically, thryoplasty shims (with an inert solid material) my paralyzed
vocal chord up to the midline position. This would provide a narrow opening
for air to pass between it and my other functioning chord, thereby
resonating to create sound. Until 1997, I was afraid of more surgery, but by
then I was ready.
We (I include my patient husband) found a voice specialist at the University
of Washington, who, after examining me, said I would be a good candidate for
a surgical procedure called thryoplasty with arytenoid adduction. He did
caution that 50% of my airway would be permanently closed, limiting my
tolerance for physical exertion. It was important, he insisted, to make my
airway reduction known to medical professionals before they administered any
future anesthesia. Knowing this, we scheduled the procedure.
The goal was to replicate as nearly as possible my pre-stroke voice. The
shim was to be inserted and manipulated through a small incision in my neck.
Staying awake throughout surgery was important, to enable the surgeon to
adjust the shim as I responded orally to his prompts. A local anesthesia
obviously obliterated any discomfort and I actually enjoyed making audible
sounds for the first time in over four years. The surgery took between two
and three hours. Results were instantaneous.
I came home from the hospital the next day. One of the first things I did
was replace my husband’s recorded message on our phone answering machine
with my “new” strong voice.
I still cannot sing. When I exercise, predictably I do get winded more
readily than I did pre-surgery.
Nonetheless, it is oh-so-nice to be able to project a voice that can easily
The Stroke Network,
P.O. Box 492
Abingdon, Maryland 21009
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