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Entries in Voice (5)

Friday
Jun152012

Texas Toddler Loses Voice to Save Her Life

ABC News(DALLAS) -- Intent on capturing her 3-year-old daughter in one final, bittersweet moment, Amber Thomas pressed record on her camera.  The sounds of laughter filled the hospital room.

"Her laugh is the most beautiful sound.  She has a really funny sense of humor," Thomas said, recalling the week before her daughter's surgery.  "I had to sit there and stare at her and know I wasn't going to hear her next week."

Emily Thomas was about to undergo a life-saving surgery, a permanent tracheotomy.  The procedure would enable her to breathe, but would put a hole in her neck and render her unable to communicate vocally for the rest of her life.

For Amber Thomas, it was the only choice.  But it also meant silencing one of the only sounds her daughter could make.

Emily's communication has been limited ever since she had a stroke at 10 days old, but her mother said they always found a way to talk.  It was through those laughs, or the noises she'd shout during Dora The Explorer, or the sounds she'd make rough-housing with her brothers, ages 4 and 2.

But two weeks ago, the little girl from Tyler, Texas, caught a common cold and nearly suffocated.

She was airlifted to the Children's Medical Center in Dallas where Amber Thomas and doctors watched over the toddler, trying to help her regain her health before she underwent a permanent tracheotomy.

On Tuesday, Emily had her last laugh. Doctors created a hole in Emily's throat and inserted a tube leading directly to her trachea.

Although she has had a few setbacks in recovery, Emily began to breathe on her own on Thursday and was taken off a ventilator.

Thomas said it's been gut wrenching to see her daughter cry now silent tears.

"You don't hear it and that really upsets me," she said.  "I feel like I can't leave the room.  Now you have to be staring at her to know."

Recovery will continue to be an uphill battle, as will adjusting to life without Amber's laugh, but Thomas knows her daughter will continue to bring joy to the family.

"Anyone who works with her tells me her disability stops with her body," she said. "She isn't afraid of anything.  She's the most positive person I know and that helps all of us."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan092012

Why So Many Vocal Cord Surgeries for Award-Winning Singers?

Kevin Mazur/WireImage(LOS ANGELES) -- For some of today's most powerful young singers, vocal cord issues have them "rolling in the deep."

The health of singing sensation Adele's raspy voice, which propelled her into superstardom and has made her a favorite to sweep the Grammys next month, was threatened last year. Weeks after her Sept. 22 concert at Albert Hall in London, the singer/songwriter had surgery to repair her vocal cords and save her career. She hasn't sung publically since her surgery.

But the 23-year-old isn't the only young singer to go under the knife to help save her voice. John Mayer, 34, was operated on last year, as was 44-year-old country star Keith Urban.

Singers are suffering from polyps, nodules and even hemorrhaging in their throats, the kind of severe damage that can shut down any booming voice, according to Dr. Shawn Nasseri, an otolaryngologist in Beverly Hills who treats many of the biggest money-making singers in the music business today.

It takes the coordination of the lungs, diaphragm, neck, voice box, throat and mouth to produce a voice, but it's when the vocal cords are brought together and vibrate that a pitch and tone are produced. Nasseri said for a singer suffering from a hemorrhaging polyp on their vocal cords, similar to what Adele had, the polyp can keep the two vocal cords from meeting and give the person "absolutely no voice."

Nasseri said these kinds of injuries are not attributed to genetics, but happen because of a specific vocal technique that singers are doing wrong -- forcing or straining their voice when they should be resting it.

"It's like if you have a bruised, swollen ankle and you want to go run 10 miles, that's exactly when you're going to have trouble," he said.

Problems are easily developed when high demands are placed on popular singers by the new realities of the music business, which is now so dependent on touring, traveling and keeping an active public profile.

And it's not just the career demands that can take its toll on singers, but also lifestyle choices -- cigarettes, alcohol and even acid reflux can cause long-term voice problems.

Soul singer John Legend, 33, said he has grown mindful of the importance of looking after his voice.

"I've certainly been no stranger to having issues with my voice," he said. "My first year performing was the worst year because I didn't know how to pace myself, and once I started to understand how it worked, I started to pace myself better."

When the vocal cords are damaged, Nasseri said minimally invasive surgery, the type Adele underwent, heals wounds with minimal risk.

"But we always use surgery as a last option, because everyone knows about Julie Andrews' voice," he said.

Andrews, the star of the original "The Sound of Music" and "Mary Poppins" films, lost her singing voice after a 1997 surgery. Her story remains a cautionary tale to other musicians. Recording artist Celeste Prince is slowly making a comeback after, she said, vocal problems and subsequent surgery ruined her signature raspy sound and threatened her career. Since her recovery Prince said she was "relieved" to get her voice back.

Vocal coach Roger Love, who has worked with almost everyone in the music business from Gwen Stefani to Def Leppard, said he prefers to heal damaged vocal cords without surgery.

"Why would anyone want surgery?" Love said. "If I tell the artist that I can eliminate those calluses that are on their cords by teaching them how to sing better, who's going to take the knife? In my view the vocal cords are never better after surgery."

Love said he will lay down the law of good vocal practice with his top-tier singing clients, starting with proper vocal warm-up exercises before shows.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Jan032012

Woman Regains Her Voice Thanks to ABC News Story

Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Thinkstock(CLEVELAND) -- Betty Lou Trufant came down with a bad cold in 1982. She thought she just had laryngitis. She lost her voice, as so many people do. But the difference for Trufant is that she never got it back.

It affected every aspect of the 64-year-old Maine woman’s life.

“I avoided a lot of social contact with people,” she said.

“Growing up,” said Trufant’s daughter, Darcelle Jacobs, 37, “we had a two-level home and we actually had to have intercoms -- little intercoms in each room so you’d hear a beep and you’d have to press a button and say, ‘Yes.’ And Mom would call me down to dinner. … We’d have to communicate that way because she couldn’t yell up the stairs for me to hear.”

But almost 30 years later, after struggling to raise a daughter and maintain her marriage without a voice, Trufant saw a story on ABC’s World News that changed her life. The story featured a woman named Erin Martin who, like Trufant, lost her voice. She suffered for four months before seeking treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. With a miraculous massage of the throat, Martin got her voice back.

Trufant had accepted that she would communicate through gestures and facial expressions for the rest of her life. But she was finally given hope.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Trufant said. “I’m like, ‘Everybody be quiet, I need to hear this!’ And I only caught the last end of it. So I went online to make sure I could hear the whole thing. I think it was the next day I called Cleveland Clinic. I thought this might just be the thing I was waiting for. I was just blown away.”

She traveled from her hometown of Westbrook, Maine, to the Cleveland Clinic, where she saw Dr. Michael Benninger.

“In this particular case, it followed a respiratory tract infection,” Benninger said. “So we assume that the virus or something like that affected the nerve and the nerve never recovered.

“The problem is basically called vocal fold, or vocal cord paralysis,” Benninger added. “And it has to do with the motion of the vocal folds. Our vocal folds are apart when we breathe and they come together when we sing or speak. So that sound is produced when they come together. So you can think of it like one vocal fold not moving and the other one cannot get across to make that sound.”

It took more than a massage, but after an hour and 20 minutes in the operating room, Trufant regained her voice. To fix the problem, Benninger inserted an implant behind her vocal cord.

“We pushed the bad vocal fold to the midline so the other one could come across and have contact against it,” he said.

“I really feel blessed that this has happened to me,” Trufant said. “It’s just a blessing to get my voice back.”

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
May162011

Functional Dysphonia: Vocal Cord Massage Brings Mom's Voice Back

ABC News(CLEVELAND) -- After coming down with a cold in May 2010, Erin Martin could only muster a whisper for weeks and then months.

"I woke up on a Sunday with a really bad sore throat," she said. "A week and a half went by and I didn't have a voice."

Three months later, the hairstylist who rarely found herself at a loss for words with clients was rendered voiceless. Martin of Wilmington, Del., said she thought she would never speak again -- that was until she visited Dr. Claudio Milstein at the Cleveland Clinic's Head and Neck Institute and was diagnosed with functional dysphonia, an abnormal tightening of the muscles around the voice box.

After 15 minutes of massaging and manipulating Martin's vocal cords, Milstein had the mother of four laughing -- and crying -- and speaking in her regular voice. Before she traveled to the Cleveland Clinic, Martin said the eight or so doctors she saw were perplexed by her condition.

"We weren't talking the same way we did," said husband Tom Martin. "It was like I wasn't married almost. A lot of things we did, we weren't doing together."

Erin said one day her brother and friend told her about a story they'd heard in the news.

"They called and said, 'You gotta listen to this woman. She sounds just like you,'" she said.

The woman in the news had functional dysphonia, in which the vocal cords get very tight and locked in position, making them unable to vibrate to produce sound. Martin said she was skeptical but made an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic and drove seven hours to get there on her birthday.

After five minutes of massage and manipulation, hints of her voice were starting to appear. Fifteen minutes later, Martin was laughing. "I am going to cry," she said.

"Usually in one intervention you can make a huge difference and improve their quality of life right away," Milstein said. "Sometimes I see patients that have had this condition for years and they are able to regain their voice in one session."

When Martin called home, her son didn't believe it was really her. "Are you sure it's not a prank call?" he said. "No, it's not a prank call. It's me," she responded.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Mar032011

Researchers Say Change in Voice Indicates Level of Fatigue

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(STATE COLLEGE, Pa.) -- You might think a cup of coffee or a quick walk before heading to your job will cover up your exhaustion from long working hours and little sleep.  That is, until your co-worker outs you by saying, "You sound tired."

Although it's a common phrase used to describe someone who might sound lethargic, many researchers say a closer look into how someone sounds can reveal how dangerous a sleep-deprived person might be.

Researchers at a Pennsylvania State University psychology lab are going beyond what the human ear can detect to measure how changes in speech could detect sleepiness.  They found everything from voice inflection to letter pronunciation can indicate how tired you are and whether you may be better off sitting out of work than trying to stay productive.

In one study at the lab, researchers compared the speech of a small group of normal students with groups that were sleep deprived for 36 hours and 48 hours.  They found the longer the students stayed awake, the more likely the analysis showed dramatic changes in energy, speech patterns and pronunciation.

"Police" sounded more like "Bolice."  Higher energy letters such as T, P and K sounded more like D, B and G, respectively.

Some of the changes researchers found may be unclear to the normal human ear, said Cynthia LaJambe, a visiting scientist and sleep researcher at Pennsylvania State University.

"We don't know if [sounding tired] means there's a handful of precise speech indicators of sleepiness, or whether [a person is finding] some general change in speech," said LaJambe.

The lab's analysis found that a sleep-deprived voice can suggest anything from fatigue to exhaustion that can result in dangerous behavior.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio