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Surgery Gives Voice to Speechless Man (Reuters)...old man of the same tissue type as Heidler who died from a ruptured brain aneurysm.......Monaco, who himself lost his larynx to cancer, said as anti-rejection drugs become safer and more effective, `...- May 30 6:19 PM ET

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Posted on: 05/30/2001

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Wednesday May 30 6:19 PM ET "Surgery Gives Voice to Speechless Man"

Surgery Gives Voice to Speechless Man

Voice Box Recipient Talks Again - (

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 motivational speaker.

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 procedure.

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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