Healthy You - Every Day

East Stroudsburg Woman Sings the Praises of Vocal Cord Implant

Jessica Parshall had lost her voice to vocal fold paralysis. Today, she’s back singing with her church praise band.

Jessica Parshall

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.

I lived with that for close to two years. 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.

“I place a customized silicone implant, generally around 2 centimeters, that assists in the contact between the vocal cords,” Syamal says. That customization is something unique to Syamal and a handful of other laryngologists around the country who carve their own implants following measurements of the larynx done by computed tomography (CT) scan rather than use pre-manufactured implants.

“I think we had five or six Dr. Syamal had carved for my surgery,” Parshall says. “It’s kind of an unusual surgery in that I was awake for it so they could test the sound of my voice and make sure it wasn’t impacting my breathing.”

Singing, praising, believing

Syamal call this “voice-affirming surgery,” where she may try different implants to get the patient as close to their original voice as possible. The entire procedure usually takes about 90 minutes.

“It’s a delicate balance,” Syamal says. “Our success rate has been excellent. Many patients come back for a checkup saying friends don’t realize they’ve ever had any problem. It’s gratifying to hear.”

After a few sessions of speech therapy, Parshall can enjoy singing with the praise band again, or just singing along on the car radio.

“I don’t quite have the same range on the high notes, but I feel like I’m getting there,” she says. “It’s amazing really. To be able to sing again, have my kids hear me again, I’m very thankful.”

Explore More Articles