At one point in his career, Craig, a father of two, worked in talk radio in Orlando. His voice was his livelihood. When he moved to Pittsburgh years later, his voice started to give out on him. Eventually, Craig was only able to speak in a whisper.
“It actually changed me as a person. I had been an extrovert, but I quickly became an introvert. I stopped talking to people because they couldn’t hear me,” says Craig.
Although Craig was unable to speak above a whisper for nearly eight years, he didn’t realize that there was a resource that could help him.
Craig met with an orthopaedic doctor for a shoulder injury. The doctor would not move forward with surgery until Craig met with an ear, nose, and throat specialist (a laryngologist) to understand what caused his vocal issues.
Craig met with Dr. Libby Smith and Dr. Jackie Gartner-Schmidt, directors of the UPMC Voice Center. They assessed Craig’s anatomy and physiology of voice and found his vocal cords never closed. When a person whispers, the vocal cords remain open. To speak, air from the lungs vibrates the vocal cords to make sound. Because his vocal cords stayed open, making sound was very difficult.
Although an exact cause is difficult to pinpoint, Craig had previously smoked cigarettes and extensively used his voice in his radio career, which may have contributed to his condition.
Craig didn’t know what to expect with voice therapy, but Dr. Gartner-Schmidt put him at ease. “She was very open, warm, and comforting,” says Craig.
They met once a week and during their sessions they practiced exercises to make Craig’s vocal cords vibrate. Essentially, Craig was holding back his breath when he talked creating a strained whisper. Therapy involved coordinating his breath so that his vocal cords make sound, as well as educating him about how negative emotions affect the voice. Dr. Gartner-Schmidt also taught Craig about vocal wellness, like writing down frustrations on a piece of paper instead of using the voice to express anger.
After years of barely having a voice, Craig noticed results right away. In fact, in less than two voice therapy sessions, he produced sounds and projected his voice at louder volumes.
A special moment happened with Craig’s young son at one of his appointments. “My son was with me during therapy and my voice really broke through and I was able to clearly talk to him. It was really cool and I started to tear up,” says Craig.
Craig still meets with Dr. Gartner-Schmidt, but not as regularly, and continues to improve. His voice improvement has not only helped him communicate better, but his social interactions as well. “I can carry on a conversation better with others. As I get my voice back, I feel more confident and outgoing.”
Learn more about voice therapy at the UPMC Voice Center by visiting the website or calling 412-232-SING (7464).
Craig's treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.