Bob Berry

Bob Berry’s Account of Spasmodic Dysphonia – June 8, 2009

During the summer of 2006 I began to have difficulty saying some words and numbers. I thought it was just allergies and would get better, but it got worse. I went to Dr. Jebeles, an ENT in the Birmingham, AL area. He said the problem was caused by acid reflux and gave me a prescription for acid reducers, one of which was protonix. I took the acid reducers for about 3 months with no improvement. I went back to Dr. Jebeles and told him I was not convinced the problem was caused by acid reflux since I had no improvement in 3 months on acid reducers. He said he was convinced it was caused by acid reflux and to just keep taking the protonix. I didn’t go back to Dr. Jebeles.

I wanted to completely rule out acid reflux so I went to Dr. Bajaj, a gastroenterologist. He put me to sleep and ran a camera down my throat and checked out my stomach, esophagus and all related areas finding no problems that would cause my voice trouble. In the meantime I had gone to our family doctor and tried a 7 day steroid pack and Nexium with no improvement in my voice.

I went to Dr. Obert, an ENT in the Birmingham, AL area in the summer of 2007. Dr. Obert said he didn’t think the problem was caused by acid reflux and mentioned two ENTs in the Birmingham area that specialized in voice, Dr. Waguespack and Dr. Levine. Dr. Obert’s nurse also mentioned to me that they were now checking for allergies by using blood tests. I was interested in this because during and after every meal my nose would run, and I would have a cloggy throat for about 45 minutes after the meal.

I went to see Dr. Waguespack in the fall of 2007. After examining me, he said I had bowed vocal cords, and that was why I couldn’t say certain words, etc. He said he could do fat injections to bring the vocal cords back to their proper positions. He did this operation in September, 2007. About 2 weeks after the operation, I began doing speech therapy with Dan Phillips, SLP, in Dr. Waguespack’s office. The exercises consisted of lip buzzes and sipping water, etc. At first all seemed to be improving, but after a few weeks the voice breaks were getting worse. My wife and I met with Dr. Waguespack and Dan Phillips in December 2007. In the conversation Dr. Waguespack said this may be the voice I was going to have, and I might have to get used to it. Dr. Waguespack was rescued from our conversation by a call from the hospital??? Dan Phillips, SLP was very concerned with improving my voice and had a true desire to help me. I appreciate that to this day.

I began to wonder if allergies were contributing to my voice problem, so I followed up on the blood test for allergies at Dr. Obert’s office in the summer of 2008. Tests came back reporting that I was allergic to most trees and grasses. Ann Tibbs, Dr. Obert’s allergy nurse said most foods were in the families of these trees and grasses. Based on this, there was only a very few foods that I could eat according to her. In addition to the diet alteration, I also began taking 2 injections twice a week to try to minimize all these allergies. After a few months of taking these injections with no improvement in my allergies or voice, I stopped taking the injections.

About this time I heard about cold laser treatments focused on the throat area. The singer Bon Jovi had greatly benefited from this I was told. I quit taking these treatments after about 6 weeks because my voice was much worse the next day after the treatment.

I wanted to now know exactly which foods I was allergic to instead of avoiding all foods in a particular family group. Dr. Obert’s office didn’t test for foods so I went to Dr. Knight at the Alabama Allergy Center. They did complete skin tests for all foods, grasses and trees. They found that I was not allergic to any foods but had non-allergic rhinitis. Dr. Knight prescribed Atrovent nasal spray and Atrovent inhaler. These worked great. By using these before meals, I don’t have the runny nose and cloggy throat that I had suffered with during and after meals for 40 years. They also found that trees and grasses were not a problem, and they haven’t been. The Alabama Allergy Center doctors said that blood tests for allergies give many false positives and that sure happened in my case. Dr. Knight at Alabama Allergy Center solved my problems with runny nose and cloggy throat at meals, but I still had my voice breaks in speech.

I decided to go to Dr. Levine remembering that he was the other ENT in the Birmingham area that specialized in voice. After a complete examination he said the vocal cords looked O.K. He said he was not sure what was causing the voice spasms. I appreciated this man’s honesty. He referred me to Vanderbilt University Voice Department in Nashville, TN.

I made an appointment with Dr. Catherine Garrett at Vanderbilt in September, 2008. Dr. Garrett did a complete examination and said:

  1. You have the classic symptoms of spasmodic dysphonia.
  2. You could be the poster person for spasmodic dysphonia.

I was told by Dr. Garrett and Dr. Jacobson, SLP that there was no cause and no cure for spasmodic dysphonia. The only treatment was botox shots into the vocal cords likely every 3 months for the rest of my life. They said botox was the gold standard for people to get their voice back. Based on this I did have the botox injection one time. It basically took my voice away for about 6 weeks. The best I could do was a coarse breathy whisper. I determined that I didn’t want to do botox again. It was not the gold standard for me – not even copper.

I had been reading Dr. Morton Cooper’s 3 books, Winning With Your Voice, Change Your Voice, Change your Life, and Stop Committing Voice Suicide. I decided to make a dedicated effort to do the things he recommends in his books. My wife was very helpful in monitoring my progress and helping me stay on the proper pitch, etc. I suppose the fear of another botox ordeal was a driving force also. As a result of much prayer and using Dr. Cooper’s techniques, I began to see improvement in my voice. I was approaching a good voice when I went to work with Dr. Cooper in Brentwood, West Los Angeles, CA the week of May 11, 2009. That week was very helpful in consolidating my gains and improving my voice even more. Dr. Cooper’s Direct Voice Rehabilitation was the only thing that helped my voice and his method is not painful or invasive.

I am totally convinced that if I had not found out about Dr. Mort Cooper and his Direct Voice Rehabilitation, I would still have spasmodic dysphonia. I have not written this account of my 3 year ordeal with spasmodic dysphonia to cast a bad light on anyone or their practice. I am writing this to share my experiences so that if another person now or in the future has my symptoms they might be directed to Direct Voice Rehabilitation first and not have to go the long, painful and stressful route that I traveled.

Bob Berry