Mother loses voice for more than 2 years

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A Salt Lake woman has sounded like she's had a cold for two years. She says it's taken a lot of visits to a lot of doctors to figure out what happened to her voice.

Cheryl Garff is a 38-year-old mother of three who lost her voice two years ago. She initially blamed a cold but after months of doctors' visits, lots of scoping and even a surgery, a doctor finally figured out the problem is in her brain.

"Going from a cold to something in my head it was just like you've got to be kidding me," said Garff.

Garff has spasmodic dysphonia. It's a neurological voice disorder that involves involuntary spasms of the vocal cords that affect the voice quality.

"I'd maybe have a voice a half a day here a full day here in between and the next day I would get up and it would be gone again," said Garff.

"It's tough," she said. "At work I try to be an outgoing type of person. But half time I sit back and don't say anything because my voice doesn't get heard."

The exact cause of her condition is unknown and there is no cure. The most effective treatments are Botox injections.

"It's quite successful for patients who have a specific voice disorder that's uncommon," said Marshall Smith, M.D., Medical Director, Voice Disorders Center. "It really severally affects patients' lives."

The Botox helps relax the muscles to improve the quality of the voice, but the results are unpredictable and vary for each patient. Garff is cautiously optimistic the treatment will work for her.

About 40,000 people in the U.S. are estimated to be affected by spasmodic dysphonia, but doctors and speech pathologist often confuse it with other voice problems. The voice disorders center at the University of Utah is the only center in the intermountain region that diagnoses and treats the disorder.


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