Yet roughly half of all children with paralyzed vocal folds are classified as having congenital vocal fold paralysis -- meaning there's no known reason for it, according to Hartnick. "Around 60 percent of the time these children will recover in the first year of life," he said. In those cases, the damaged nerves leading to the vocal fold either slowly repairs itself or whatever was blocking the nerve is remediated.
As doctors try to find what happened to Devon, the first goal is to keep him eating and breathing -- which may call for a tracheotomy.
While a tracheotomy may save his life, doctors warn it might interfere with his learning to speak.
"There are concerns about tracheotomies in small children's language development: they can vocalize, but for short periods of time and that's the problem," said Dr. Priya Krishna, assistant professor in the department otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburg School of Medicine.
Krishna said tracheotomies can be risky in small children for other reasons. "If they put a tracheotomy tube in the parents would need special suction equipment and humidification to make sure the tube doesn't get clogged up -- that can kill a child too," she said.
Depending on his diagnosis doctors may also surgically open Devon's vocal folds -- allowing him to breathe but making it difficult to speak loudly or swallow liquids.
For now Sutterfield commutes the 50 miles between his home in Cullen and the Ronald McDonald house where Devon stays with Woods in Birmingham.
On top of the couple's medical problems Sutterfield says he has been evicted from his home, and recently had his car repossessed.
Sutterfield installs mobile homes for a living and can't find work if the weather is not good.
"I'm hoping there are people out there who understand what we're going through," said Sutterfield. "It's not like we're happy to be asking for help -- but sometimes you need to."
To read more about the Sutterfield family, or contact someone to help, visit the ABC3340 Web site.