CARMEL, Ind. — There were times when Anna Danielova opened her mouth to speak but no sound came out.
Years of projecting her voice across lecture halls at Indiana University's Kelley School of Business had strained her vocal cords past the point of fighting through the pain.
They simply quit.
Now, thanks to a new medical practice in Carmel, she can talk about it — really talk, not just whisper, as she did into a microphone for the last few years so she could continue teaching.
"I was so surprised that they took it seriously," Danielova told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1r5TXZN ). Other doctors had told her there was nothing they could do; her voice was simply her body's "weakness," they said.
At the Voice Clinic of Indiana, she was told that it didn't have to be.
The Carmel-based clinic is the only one of its kind in the state, and one of just two in the Midwest since it opened last year. It's led by Dr. Stacey Halum, Indiana's only laryngologist, who teamed up with vocal therapist Rebecca Risser to offer a one-stop shop for vocal medicine.
A quarter or more of their patients are performers — often singers or professional speakers — but most are those like Danielova who aren't professional vocalists, but have to use their voices for a living just the same.
Halum performs the surgeries — removing polyps, granulomas and other growths that can develop as the body compensates for overuse. Risser makes sure the patients don't come back by retraining them to speak, sing and shout properly.
"It should be a tool that you get to use any way you want," Risser said. "What happens is, it starts controlling the person. After a while, straining a lot doesn't work. Pushing really hard doesn't work."
That's how it happened for Rhonda Syburg.
The Southside Indianapolis resident would talk on the phone all day at the bank where she worked, give presentations and occasionally lead training seminars. She also sang in her church choir — until all of a sudden, she couldn't.
"I sang all the time, I was on stage and suddenly there's no voice coming out," Syburg said. "I sat there and opened my mouth and notes did not come out."
She was hoarse, but didn't feel sick. Her voice would sound raspy at one moment, and completely drop out the next. When it didn't improve, she visited a doctor, who sent her to Halum's clinic. But there were moments, she said, when she wondered if it was permanent.
The thought was terrifying.
"I have to be able to be someone that someone wants to listen to," Syburg said. "No one wants to hear someone who sounds like their nails scratching on a chalkboard. That's how I felt that I was."
Syburg didn't need surgery — a combination of vocal therapy, medicine and a change in diet were enough to bring her voice back to 80 percent or 90 percent of what it was.
But while Syburg's problems started in December, and were treated within a few months beginning in January, Danielova's road to recovery was much longer. Her symptoms began more than three years ago, and because of the dearth of vocal specialists, she spent years not knowing where to turn. Even ear, nose and throat doctors told her nothing could be done for her constant throat pain.
It became so bad, she had to use make-shift sign language and written notes to communicate with her kids at home.
"It is scary," she said. "I was already considering long-term disability."
She still hasn't tested her voice — now granuloma-free — in a classroom setting. But she can talk to her kids, and that alone made the treatment worthwhile.
"It still might be permanent; I don't really know. I will have a better sense in the fall," Danielova said. "If I can get through the term without losing my voice, it'll be a complete success."
Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com
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