Wednesday May 30 6:19 PM ET
"Surgery Gives Voice to Speechless Man"
Surgery Gives Voice to Speechless Man
By Gene Emery
BOSTON (Reuters) - The first successful larynx transplant
recipient who was unable to speak for 20 years until his
operation three years ago, can now also sing and has become a
motivational speaker, a report in Thursday's New England Journal
of Medicine (news - web sites) said.
Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, in a
follow-up report on the Jan. 4, 1998 operation on Timothy
Heidler, 40, whose voice box was crushed in a motorcycle
accident, said Heidler was doing well and they were looking for a
second candidate for a similar surgery.
The 12-hour surgery on Heidler, whose accident was 20 years
earlier, allowed him to surprise his doctors with his first word
-- "Hello" -- after just three days.
He then went on to join his church choir and is now a
The report's authors said the operation may help people whose
larynx has been lost due to trauma or a tumor.
But the operation also raises ethical issues. In the past,
most transplants were done to save lives, so the benefits
outweighed the risks of taking anti-rejection drugs that can have
serious side effects.
However, transplanting a larynx is not a life-saving
Heidler was a firefighter when he rode his motorcycle into a
wire strung across a road. After the accident, he could only
speak with an electronic larynx.
The surgical team, led by Dr. Marshall Strome, searched six
months for the right donor -- a 40-year-old man of the same
tissue type as Heidler who died from a ruptured brain aneurysm.
The transplant also restored Heidler's sense of taste and smell,
which is often lost when the larynx is damaged.
He had one episode of tissue rejection in April 1999, but
doctors were quickly alerted because the quality of his voice
began to decline. Drugs countered the rejection.
In an editorial in the Journal, Dr. Anthony Monaco of the
Harvard Medical School (news - web sites) said "the ability to detect rejection
early bodes well for the treatment of rejection in patients who
receive this type of transplant."
Monaco, who himself lost his larynx to cancer, said as
anti-rejection drugs become safer and more effective, "more of
these transplants will be done" and laryngeal transplantation
"deserves evaluation in more extended clinical trials."
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