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A Voice Regained

June 14, 2011

Imagine how different your life would be if you suddenly lost the ability to speak.

     Such was the case for Brenda Charett Jensen, when surgery resulted in permanent damage to her larynx. The larynx, more commonly referred to as the voice box, is the tubular organ located at the front of the neck that plays an essential role in breathing, speech production, and preventing fluid and food particles from entering the airway.  Like Brenda, damage to the larynx can leave a person unable to speak without the aid of an electronic or prosthetic device.

However, in October 2010, she became only the second person in the United States to receive a controversial procedure, a larynx transplant (CNN, Voice found: Woman speaks with new larynx, 2011).

Laryngotracheal transplantation has been researched as a treatment option for those with irreversible airway disease, typically cancer, for over 40 years. Yet, despite the research behind the procedure, there had only been one true successful laryngeal transplant reported up until 2008. The case against airway transplantation argues that there are only a few suitable patients, in addition to the surgery being costly and difficult. If nerve connections to the larynx cannot be restored with transplantation, then the outcome is no better than conventional treatments. Additionally, the target population is often cancer patients; however, this procedure further elicits immunosuppression, which may be both hazardous and unethical for these patients.

After years of research, scientists have yet to develop a solution that can fully replicate the complex functions of the larynx, making total replacement a highly compelling alternative (Birchall & Macchiarini, 2008). As more research into airway transplantation and tissue-engineering strategies develops, this procedure will continue to be explored as a viable option for some people (Birchall & Macchiarini, 2008).

And for Brenda Jensen, her story is one of triumph and success.

On Thursday, Jensen emerged with her doctors from University of California Davis Medical Center. And she had something to say.

“It’s been a long journey,” she said, while thanking her doctors and the organ donor’s family. “I’m still working hard, but it’s improving every day.” (CNN, Voice found: Woman speaks with new larynx, 2011).

Excerpt taken from CNN’s Article:

Voice found: Woman speaks with new larynx

By Madison Park, CNN      January 20, 2011 10:29 p.m. EST

available from  http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/01/20/larynx.transplant/?hpt=Sbin

Birchall, M., & Macchiarini, P. (2008). Airway Transplantation: A Debate Worth Having? Transplantation, 85, 1075-1080.

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