Woman Finds Voice Again After Two Years

Of all her skills, registered nurse Trish Wheeler probably would have counted her voice among the least of them.Dr. Postma and Tina Wheeler

“Like our other senses, the ability to speak is something we all take for granted,” said Wheeler, a PRN with Augusta University Health since 2001. “But when that ability is taken away, we realize how great a gift that is.”

Two years ago, Wheeler began waking up with a tight feeling in her throat, almost like she was being strangled. The feeling came off and on, and after six months, she noticed that her voice was being affected. Soon, her voice was breaking when she spoke, and she wasn’t able to complete a sentence without being literally unable to speak some of the words.

“By that time, my co-workers were asking me, ‘What’s wrong with your voice? Do you have laryngitis?’” said Wheeler. “While everyone was wonderfully supportive, communication became difficult and it affected me both professionally and personally. I started avoiding going places, avoiding phone calls—it was a hard time.”

Wheeler began searching for what was happening to her. She found out about a disorder of the vocal cords called spasmodic dysphonia and went to Dr. Christine Gourin, an ENT physician at Augusta University Health. After diagnosing her with SD, Dr. Gourin referred her to Dr. Gregory Postma for treatment.

Dr. Postma and Tina WheelerDr. Postma had just been named Director of the new Voice and Swallowing Center, and Wheeler was one of his first patients. “Spasmodic dysphonia is a neurological voice disorder that causes involuntary spasms of the vocal cords, resulting in the voice either ‘breaking up’ or becoming whispery. We diagnosed Trish with this first type of SD, which resulted in her interruptions in speech. Injections of Botox or botulinum toxin to the vocal cords have been found to be quite successful in restoring patients to their normal voice,” said Dr. Postma.

After her first treatment, Wheeler found that her voice no longer broke and after three long years, she was finally able to speak normally again. “I felt like I was back to my old self, both professionally and personally. I called my daughter at college the other day and she was quiet. I asked her what was wrong, and she said, ‘Nothing, I’m just listening to you talk. I’ve missed the sound of your voice.’ It’s truly wonderful to feel like I’m back to a normal life.”

If Wheeler continues treatment, she should experience no further problems with her voice. While there can be potential side effects to the treatment, such as short-term difficulty in swallowing, Wheeler says the benefits far outweigh the risks. “Patients with this disorder should definitely look into this treatment,” said Wheeler. “Those two years, I feel like I was hunting for a miracle, and I found one.”