Every time Jessica Parshall gets to sing with the praise band at Stroudsburg Wesleyan Church, she considers it nothing short of a blessing. The 36-year-old East Stroudsburg native had been a longtime band member before she suddenly began to lose her voice three years ago.
“At first, doctors thought it was a virus or an allergy,” Parshall says. “We tried different things and didn’t get anywhere. Finally, they found a tumor on the nerve that controls one of my vocal cords. Thankfully, it turned out to be benign.”
Doctors were able to remove most of the tumor that had immobilized her vocal cord (also known as vocal fold), but Parshall’s voice remained little above a raspy whisper.
“I lived with that for close to two years,” she says. “When I took my kids to the park, I had to take along a whistle in case they wandered too far away. I couldn’t yell for them to come back. Things like ordering a meal at a diner were really difficult.”
Voicing her concerns
Finally, Parshall had enough. In 2019, she began searching the internet for ways to address her problem and came across Lehigh Valley Health Network laryngologist Mausumi Syamal, MD, with LVPG Ear, Nose and Throat, who specializes in vocal cord disorders.
The vocal cords are two bands of muscle tissue in the larynx that vibrate when they meet as air passes through the larynx, creating the sounds we use for speech. They also help to regulate breathing and prevent choking when food or other items pass through the larynx.
“They operate like hands clapping to produce a strong, audible voice,” Syamal says. “When a patient has vocal fold paralysis, the vocal cords can’t meet. The breathiness that results is the sound of one hand clapping.”
Delicate steps to restore a voice
Initially, Syamal injects a temporary gel into the affected area, then follows the patient for a year to see if the gel can repair the vocal cord immobility before it dissolves completely. In most cases, vocal fold implant surgery becomes necessary.