Slow erosion of voice turned into scream for help at Clinical Center for Voice Care

Dr. Ted Mau, Barbara Valentine
From left: Dr. Ted Mau, Director of the Clinical Center for Voice Care and Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, and patient Barbara Valentin

DALLAS – Nov. 1, 2013 – As a receiving coordinator for a large toy company, Barbara Valentin is on the phone a lot. But it was people on the other end of the line who were first to notice something was amiss.

“I had always received comments about what a nice voice I had, but I started hearing comments like “What’s wrong with your voice” to “Oh my, are you sick?” My oldest sister was the first to notice the choppiness to my voice even when I didn’t recognize anything was wrong,” she recalled. “Gradually it got worse. Rarely a day went by that I didn’t have to explain to someone that no, I wasn’t sick.”

The slow erosion of her voice quickly turned into a scream for help. She met with several physicians around town, with a variety of suggestions from acid reflux medications to attempts at voice therapy, but several MRIs and specialists later, the medical consensus was stuck.

 “I went to one doctor after another trying to find answers because by this time having a conversation was difficult and extremely aggravating for me. My words would come out of my mouth but something was chopping them up and I sounded a little as though I was being strangled while talking,” she said.

The problem started to affect more than just her voice.

“I began to withdraw socially and wouldn’t, and most of the time couldn’t, engage in conversation,” she said. “The look on people’s faces when they would pretend to understand me but really just wanted to turn around and walk away was hurting me almost as much as the struggle to speak.”

Eventually a community ear, nose and throat specialist referred her to UT Southwestern’s Clinical Center for Voice Care and Dr. Ted Mau, Director of the center and Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. The center specializes in disorders of the voice and larynx (voice box) with a team of specially trained physicians and therapists. The voice center often attracts professionals like Ms. Valentin who rely on their voice — including singers, actors, public speakers, lawyers, ministers, and teachers.

Dr. Mau determined she had spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological problem in which muscles of the voice box spasm during speech. In Ms. Valentin’s case, the recommended treatment was Botox injections, which help loosen the muscles.

“Dr. Mau came highly recommended and my doctor had already heard such good things about what he was doing at UT Southwestern,” she said. “When Dr. Mau saw me on my first visit, I felt comfortable and reassured that this was finally the right diagnosis. He took the time to talk to me, listen to me, and explain the voice disorder to me. He completely walked me through each step of the injections.

“A couple of days after the Botox had settled into my vocal cords, I picked up the phone and called my sister,” who had accompanied her to sessions for moral support, she said. “She was so excited that although she could barely hear the volume of my voice, she could understand every word I said. We were both in tears.”

Ms. Valentin has since regained both her voice and her confidence. “I have additional help and support from a wonderful voice therapist, Amy Hamilton, who is also at the voice center. She has taught me valuable techniques and exercises to help me get the most benefit out of my Botox injections,” Ms. Valentin said. “I can’t say enough thanks to a team of caring professionals who not only allowed me to communicate more effectively, but have given me my voice back!”  

“The voice is really the window to your soul. People’s emotions are very tied to their voice,” noted Dr. Mau. “Especially for those who depend on their voice for their profession and their livelihood, we are able to help and really make a difference in their lives.”

Dr. Mau suggests seeking medical help when voice problems persist, particularly if there is no clear reason. People experiencing voice problems, such as hoarseness or changes in pitch, lasting more than three weeks, as well as those with persistent laryngitis or a sudden loss of voice should see a specialist.

Services offered at the UT Southwestern Clinical Center for Voice Care include:

  • Videostroboscopy, which allows patients to see how their vocal cords function.
  • Voice therapy, to teach techniques designed to correct vocal patterns that may contribute to vocal abuse or misuse.
  • Botulinum toxin (Botox) injections, which treat spasmodic dysphonia.
  • Thyroplasty and vocal fold injection augmentation, procedures to strengthen weak vocal cords that are causing hoarseness or breathy-sounding voice.
  • Microsurgery of the vocal folds, a minimally invasive procedure to remove polyps or cysts.

For more information on voice disorders and solutions, go to UT Southwestern’s Clinical Center for Voice Care, read Dr. Mau’s voice tips, or call 214-645-8300. 

About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the premier academic medical centers in the nation, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has many distinguished members, including five who have been awarded Nobel Prizes since 1985. Numbering more than 2,700, the faculty is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide medical care in 40 specialties to nearly 90,000 hospitalized patients and oversee more than 1.9 million outpatient visits a year.

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Media Contact: Russell Rian
214-648-3404
russell.rian@utsouthwestern.edu

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