New Voice Lift Procedure for Aging Vocal Chords

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, November 29, 2004
Speaking is not an easy thing to do for 80-year-old Alice Chambers. It’s hard to talk. It’s hard for people to understand me. I used to be able to project my voice but I can’t now. And does it hurt to talk? No, it doesn’t hurt so much as that it gets very tiring. The retired nurse has had voice problems for about 40-years, going back to a difficult tracheotomy complicated more recently by a stroke. Doctor Peter Belafsky says it’s one of the worst cases he’s ever seen. She has some injury to the cartilage of the vocal cord as a result of having the breathing tube put in. That’s something that is very difficult to reverse so she’ll definitely be improved but we may not get as much improvement on her as we would on somebody with age-related vocal fold atrophy or subtle weakness. She has a profound immobility of her vocal cord. Her problem is about as bad as it gets. Belafsky is director of the Voice and Swallowing Center at the U-C Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. He says age-related voice changes are very common. It happens when the muscles surrounding the voice box lose their elasticity. Women naturally have a higher fundamental frequency or higher pitch and men typically have a lower pitch. So as we get older they just kind of merge to more of a centralized frequency and because women’s voices are naturally higher when they lose some of the elasticity of their vocal cords and some of the muscle strength their voice lowers and as men age it elevates somewhat. The voice-lift procedure involves injecting a calcium implant into the vocal cord. But before Alice undergoes the operation, speech pathologist Susan Goodrich analyzes her voice. We’re going to do three tests here….We’re trying to get objective data for what happens when you make a sound rather than just saying ‘well, your mildly hoarse or your moderately hoarse or your breathy, which is all subjective, we’re trying to put some numbers to it so we can compare those numbers to normal to see how a person’s voice is abnormal compared to normal. After the tests are finished, Doctor Belafsky meets with Alice for a quick consultation. Okay, open your mouth real wide…..everybody’s been better. Alice’s daughter-in-law Niki Chambers is hopeful the procedure will be a success. It’d be wonderful if it works. It’ll be like a miracle because it’s a very simple sounding procedure. Doctors used to inject collagen or fat when they performed voice-lifts but those were only temporary fixes. Belafsky says calcium is potentially a permanent implant. We’re injecting….everybody’s been improved. The procedure only takes about 20-minutes. After three-days of voice rest, Alice returns to the hospital for a post-operative evaluation. Except for an adverse reaction to some medication, she’s doing well. And there’s a noticeable difference in her voice. Feel great. I was a little nervous at first ‘cause I was so sick….but I really feel great. Her voice has more strength behind it. Yes, I feel like there is. So it’s good news. While looking at a video image of her voice box, Doctor Belafsky says things look good. Vocal cords are plump….they’re coming together perfectly. Yeah, she looks great….post-operative recovery. Belafsky says the voice-lift procedure is quickly becoming a popular procedure. With the aging population….in our society. It’s still not clear if the calcium implant is a permanent fix. The treatment was approved by the Food and Drug Administration only two-and-a-half-years ago. Belafsky believes it could potentially offer more lasting results than standard implants using fat or collagen. He’s injected well over 100 vocal folds and he says so far all of his patients have improved. Steve Milne - KXJZ news.