Thanks to a microdirect laryngoscopy with Jeffrey J. Lehman, M.D., F.A.C.S., board-certified otolaryngologist and Director of the Center for Voice Care and Swallowing Disorders at The Ear, Nose, Throat & Plastic Surgery Associates, and in conjunction with post-operative voice therapy provided by our voice pathologists, Kelly’s career as a professional singer and actor has once again skyrocketed.
“I have what I feel like is a new lease on my vocal life,” says Kelly. “The surgery was just the best thing I could’ve done for myself. I honestly wish I had looked into it earlier.”
Kelly has been a professional performer all her life. However, during an outdoor theatre performance in 2008, she developed pre-nodular changes on her vocal cords.
What are Vocal Fold Nodules?
Vocal fold nodules are noncancerous growths on the vocal folds. These callous-like growths develop in the midpoint of both vocal folds, typically in a symmetrical fashion.
They can be as small as a pinhead or as large as a pea. Also known as singer’s nodules or nodes, vocal fold nodules result from repetitive vocal trauma, such as straining to speak or sing, overusing the voice, or talking and singing loudly for an extended period of time. Vocal fold nodules can affect many different occupational voice users, such as teachers, coaches, preachers, and anyone who uses his or her voice for extended periods of time at home or at work.
“I’ve been coming to The Ear, Nose, Throat, & Plastic Surgery Associates since 2008,” says Kelly. “What brought me here was Dr. Lehman and his voice care team. I had developed pre-nodules from an outdoor theater job. And while I healed them through some voice rest and my own care, I always felt like I was playing a bit injured. After that, I never quite had vocal cords that vibrated perfectly. And they would create a lot of wear and tear after just a few days of performing.”
Kelly worked successfully with Dr. Lehman and Austin Collum, MA, CCC-SLP, voice pathologist and singing voice specialist, to be able to continue her career. A voice pathologist is a certified speech, language pathologist who specializes in the treatment of voice and upper airway disorders. Our voice pathology team partners with our patients to create specialized vocal warm-up and cool down routines, optimize vocal hygiene and wellness, and assist in navigating the rehabilitation process following a vocal injury.
“I worked with Dr. Lehman and the voice care team who gave me tons of help and advice to allow me to continue my career, even though I didn’t have perfect vocal cords.”
However, Kelly recently suffered another setback when she developed a vocal fold polyp due to a bad allergy season and severe coughing while having to continue to perform.
What are Vocal Polyps?
Vocal cord polyps are different from nodules because they can occur on either one or both vocal cords. They tend to have more blood vessels than nodules and can be translucent or red in color. These growths can vary in size and shape but are typically larger than nodules. Like vocal cord nodules, polyps are caused most often by vocal trauma. They can result from chronic vocal trauma or a single episode of vocal damage (such as yelling at a sports event).
“Upon seeing the polyp, we discussed the option of surgery,” says Kelly. “And I decided to undergo surgery in May of 2019, under the care of Dr. Lehman and his voice care team.”
Kelly trusted Dr. Lehman because he never pushed her into surgery and was determined to try conservative treatment methods before considering surgery. “Dr. Lehman is very honest, both with what he’d prefer to do and what options he’d prefer not to consider right away. He always mentioned that surgery was an option, but he preferred exploring other treatments first. We considered things like acid reflux, allergies, and technical issues to make sure they weren’t a factor. It was never a go-right-to-surgery situation. We looked at all the options, and I then decided what was best for me.”
Kelly greatly appreciated Dr. Lehman’s bedside manner and how he took the time to listen to and address all her concerns.
“Dr. Lehman is great, efficient, and to the point,” she says. “He listens to the recommendations of his entire voice care team. They are absolutely wonderful. They take time to listen to what you do for a living, so they can consider the wear and tear on your voice. Every time Dr. Lehman or one of his voice pathologists come into the room, I feel like I finally get to talk to someone who understands my concerns and the demands of my job. And they don’t think I’m crazy for using 14 different character voices over the course of a month (laughs)!”
Grateful for getting her professional voice back, Kelly looks forward to pursuing the art she has loved since she was young. ”I’ve been a professional singer all my life,” she says. “Now, I have a whole new vocal care routine and new ways to warm up. I feel like I have a new lease on life as a performer.”