Betty Lou Trufant came down with a bad cold in 1982. She thought she just had laryngitis. She lost her voice, as so many people do. But the difference for Trufant is she never got it back.
It affected every aspect of the 64-year-old Maine woman’s life.
“I avoided a lot of social contact with people,” she said.
It became easier just to not go than to put up with the frustration and depression of not being able to communicate well with other people.”
Family life was affected too.
“Growing up,” said Trufant’s daughter, Darcelle Jacobs, 37, “we had a two-level home and we actually had to have intercoms – little intercoms in each room so you’d hear a beep and you’d have to press a button and say, ‘Yes.’ And Mom would call me down to dinner. … We’d have to communicate that way because she couldn’t yell up the stairs for me to hear.”
But almost 30 years later, after struggling to raise a daughter and maintain her marriage without a voice, Trufant saw a story on ABC’s “World News” that changed her life.
The story featured a woman named Erin Martin who, like Trufant, lost her voice. She suffered for four months before seeking treatment at the Cleveland Clinic. With a miraculous massage of the throat, Martin got her voice back.
Trufant had accepted that she would communicate through gestures and facial expressions for the rest of her life. But she was finally given hope.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Trufant said. “I’m like, ‘Everybody be quiet, I need to hear this!’ And I only caught the last end of it. So I went online to make sure I could hear the whole thing. I think it was the next day I called Cleveland Clinic. I thought this might just be the thing I was waiting for. I was just blown away.”
She traveled from her hometown of Westbrook, Maine, to the Cleveland Clinic, where she saw Dr. Michael Benninger.
“In this particular case, it followed a respiratory tract infection,” Benninger said. “So we assume that the virus or something like that affected the nerve and the nerve never recovered.
“The problem is basically called vocal fold, or vocal cord paralysis,” Benninger added. “And it has to do with the motion of the vocal folds. Our vocal folds are apart when we breathe and they come together when we sing or speak. So that sound is produced when they come together. So you can think of it like one vocal fold not moving and the other one cannot get across to make that sound.”
It took more than a massage, but after an hour and 20 minutes in the operating room, Trufant regained her voice.
To fix the problem, Benninger inserted an implant behind her vocal cord.
“We pushed the bad vocal fold to the midline so the other one could come across and have contact against it,” he said.
“I really feel blessed that this has happened to me,” Trufant said. “It’s just a blessing to get my voice back.”
And the rest of the Trufant family is thankful too. Trufant’s grandson, Trey, almost didn’t believe it was his grandmother’s voice on the other end of the line.
“It was surprising,” the 11-year-old said. “I didn’t really think it was her so I asked her a bunch of questions that only she would know – like what my lizards names were and what her house number was.”
“I cried,” said Trey’s mom, Jacobs. “It gets me emotional now. I don’t remember what her voice ever really sounded like, but I remember her losing it. And I remember how hard it was on each of us. I get choked up now. It’s amazing, amazing after all this time.”