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New type of surgery helps patients get voices back

September 6, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Most people take their voices for granted. Yet every year thousands of people have vocal disorders ranging from hoarseness to complete loss of voice.

While laryngitis usually lasts a few days, if it gets worse, surgery may be the only option.

James Palmer, 78, started to lose his voice after laryngeal cancer surgery 50 years ago. After a second surgery 10 years later, it was gone.

"When they got done with that, I didn't have no voice. I just whispered," he said.

University of North Carolina otolaryngologist Dr. Robert Buckmire offered Palmer a solution: an implant procedure that could restore his voice.

"The point of the implant is to open the voice box and to medialize, or get the vocal folds closer together, so that he can achieve speech," Buckmire said.

With the patient under sedation and local anesthesia, the surgeon exposes the voice box, then cuts thin Gore-Tex strips and layers them to close the vocal folds. Then he listens to give the patient the best possible voice.

Four months after the procedure, Palmer's back to his regular routine, but thanks to the surgery, he doesn't have to whisper anymore.

"Anything was an improvement, and this was better than anything, because I could hear the difference," Palmer said.

The Gore-Tex implant procedure is now one of several available that can help patients get their voices back.

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