coutesy of WLWT
Jan Christian couldn't speak above a whisper for decades after her throat was crushed in a car accident.
Silenced for 35 years by a crushing injury to her throat, Jan Christian is regaining her voice, thanks to several complex surgeries and some jet-engine technology.
But the Kentucky woman isn’t simply speaking for the first time since she was a teenager. She’s singing in her church choir. She’s giving her dog commands. And she’s re-learning the art of tact: words that enter her mind should not always flow out of her mouth.
“I’m still trying to swallow the fact that I can talk, that people can hear me - I sometimes have to pull my foot out of my mouth now. You know: ‘Oops, I said that out loud?,” Christian told msnbc.com. Her new voice is hoarse and raspy but clear and gaining strength.
Her original voice was lost – she thought forever – when a car in which she was riding rammed into a telephone pole, causing Christian’s head to jerk forward and her neck to collide with the dashboard. The impact flattened the cartilage enveloping her vocal cords, preventing the cords from vibrating via normal airflow, blocking the cords from making noise.
Since her accident at age 17, Christian only could mouth words or communicate through hand signals and facial expressions. About two years ago, a stranger in a grocery store heard her struggling to speak and handed her a business card for Dr. Sid Khosla, an otolaryngologist and head of the Voice and Swallowing Center at the University of Cincinnati, WLWT.com first reported.She soon allowed Khosla to examine her throat with a scope.
Several weeks later – after Christian “made a list of the pros and cons” of doing the surgery – Khosla transplanted muscle and fat from the inside of Christian’s cheek to rebuild the vocal cords in her neck. He has performed that procedure about 25 times, according to media reports. His medical aim was to allow air to glide over those revamped cords.
And, according to his patient, Khosla’s theoretical model for that vocal blueprint: a powerful airplane.
“The doctor learned how to do this procedure by studying jet engines – how the air flows inside of those engines,” she said.
After the operation, Christian had to remain silent for eight months to allow her restored throat to heal. Later, Khosla teamed Christian with a speech therapist at University Hospital in Cincinnati.
“It was the therapist’s first day on the job. Dr. Khosla said, ‘Make her talk.’ So I think she was kind of stressed. No pressure or anything,” Christian recalled with a giggle. “The first thing I could really do was just make the sound, ‘eeee,’ I couldn’t get a word out at that point.”
As she slowly re-learned how to move air over her vocal cords and control her breaths, her first words finally came – in the form of a question: “Did you hear that?” she asked the therapist.
“It used to be very painful to speak. There’s no pain now,” says Christian, 53, a resident of Alexandria, Ky.
“In that moment of my first words, you have every feeling in the book. There’s joy and happiness. And you’re scared. Just everything all at once. Your emotions rise all at once. And then all you can do is cry.
“I didn’t realize it would be such a hard road to learn to talk again,” she added. “But my doctor said there’s no reason why my voice shouldn’t continue to get stronger.”
On Easter, she sang her in church choir. Now, she is taking singing lessons with a coach who is teaching her more about air placement and air control in order to improve her musical pitch and delivery.
As evidence of her fresh vocal muscles, she paused during a phone interview Wednesday to scold her dog.
“Drop it! Drop it!” Christian said. “Oh, he’s got a bug in his mouth. I hope it’s not poisonous. Drop it!! OK, he dropped it.”
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Surgery helps an Ohio woman speak after more than 30 years of silence. WLWT's Stephanie Stone reports.
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