Real Patients, Real Stories

Patient Sings Again Thanks to Vocal Chord Surgery and Therapy



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Lonnie Stevens loved to sing and was often complemented on her beautiful soprano voice until four years ago when congestion, inflammation, and swelling in her throat left her short of breath and unable to hold a tone. Singing became difficult and her high notes became squeaks. Over time, Lonnie’s speaking voice grew hoarse, prompting several well-meaning friends to ask what was wrong with her voice. “I didn’t sound like myself,” says Lonnie. “It was really depressing thinking I might never sing again.”

Then, while attending a seminar at Day Murray Music, Lonnie was urged by renowned soprano JoAnn Ottley to have her vocal chords checked out. Lonnie met with her doctor and was referred to University of Utah Health Care’s Voice Disorders Center. Lonnie’s doctors, Marshall Smith, M.D., FAC and Kristine Tanner, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, discovered that the acid reflux (also known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD) and digestion issues that Lonnie had been experiencing had caused polyps to form along her esophagus. “I never thought the two problems connected with each other,” says Lonnie.

After several weeks of medication and a strict diet to heal her esophagus, a polyp on her vocal chords remained intact. The polyp was a hemorrhagic vocal fold polyp, which meant the polyp was connected to a small blood vessel that helped it grow. Smith performed surgery to remove the polyp and cauterize the blood vessel. The surgery was successful and Lonnie’s recovery required several weeks of strict vocal rest.

Lonnie began vocal therapy with Tanner and singing specialist Faye Muntz, M.M. Says Lonnie, “I created a handicap for myself when I was sick by overcompensating. Because I was losing my voice, I started using the wrong muscles to try to force the sound out, to be able to speak and to be able to sing. I had to relearn to sing all over again. What came naturally for me years ago, now I was having to learn: how to sing the right way and how to use the vocal chords.”

Now, Lonnie is thrilled to be singing again. At a recent performance with Utah Voices, another soprano in the choir said to Lonnie, “I’ve never noticed your voice before, you sound so beautiful!” Lonnie is thankful for the help she received at the Voice Disorder Center. She says, “Everyone there has been so personable, so helpful and kind. They really took an individual interest in me. They can hear when something’s wrong and they know what to do to help. I’m really close to having my full range back. Every month I get closer.”


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