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Giving Voice: SLUCare Otolaryngology


Speech-language pathologist Michelle Payne and laryngologist Dr. John EisenbeisPictured: Speech-language pathologist Michelle Payne and laryngologist Dr. John Eisenbeis

SLUCare Voice Disorder Clinic Helps Patients with Vocal Cord Dysfunction, Swallowing Problems 

When a friend calls, the ‘hello' at the other end tells you who's on the line. When you're having a bad day, the voice of a loved one can soothe your worries. Some, like sports announcers, singers and radio hosts, count on their voices for their livelihood. So when Mary Eggleston, a music director at a local parish, noticed that her singing voice was giving her trouble, she became worried. "I would attempt to sing, and my voice would screech or do something goofy," she says. "I knew it was something worse than a cold."

At the clinic, we have speech-language pathologists, voice specialists, and ear, nose and throat specialists all in one place.”

Seeking the help of a specialist, she landed in the office of Dr. John Eisenbeis, a SLUCare laryngologist and head of the SLUCare Voice Disorder Clinic, which utilizes a multidisciplinary approach to treat the full spectrum of voice disorders and swallowing problems. "At the clinic, we have speech-language pathologists, voice specialists, and ear, nose and throat specialists all in one place," says Eisenbeis, who also is a professor of otolaryngology at Saint Louis University. "We have state-of-the-art equipment for voice analysis and can treat anyone with voice disorders, from parents who yell too much to sports announcers and rock stars who have worn out their voices." The clinic also offers in-office injections to treat vocal cord paralysis and the aging voice, as well as Botox injections to treat patients with spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that causes spasms in the larynx during speech.

Vocal cord disorders can be misdiagnosed for years, Eisenbeis says. One such condition is vocal cord dysfunction, in which the cords close abnormally during breathing, causing asthma-like symptoms. "Patients with this condition have learned bad breathing habits," Eisenbeis explains. "Our speech-language pathologist works with them to retrain their brain, and the problem goes away."

At the clinic, voice disorder patients first are given a stroboscopy, which allows physicians to see how the vocal cords are vibrating. "It's useful to get in-depth knowledge about the patient and know what their vocal cords look like and how the architecture needs to change when they're on the operating table," Eisenbeis says. "It's incredible to be able to treat these patients and use a picture of their vocal cords to help them understand what is going on."

Mary Eggleston's stroboscopy revealed a hemorrhaging polyp on her right cord, which was impeding it from vibrating properly. After she rested her voice to heal the hemorrhaging, she underwent surgery to remove the polyp. The procedure took only a few minutes, but completely fixed her voice, Eggleston reports happily. "I was barely even sore afterward," she says. "It was scary thinking I could lose my singing voice. I'm thrilled to have it back — and it's actually better than before."

Eisenbeis loves working with the voice, he says, in part because it is so fundamental to who we are. "It's such a unique signature, and if you heard anyone sing, from a little kid in a school play to the great Pavarotti, it's amazing what we're able to do with this instrument," he says. "If someone loses their voice, it's a significant impairment."

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This article originally appeared in Town & Style.

By Stephanie Zeilenga