Operation gives woman voice back after 11-year silence

A WOMAN who has not uttered a word for more than a decade has had her speech restored thanks to a pioneering transplant.

Brenda Jensen was unable to speak or breathe on her own before the operation — only the second time a voicebox transplant has been performed worldwide.

British surgeon Martin Birchall, professor of laryngology at University College London, was part of the team which gave Jensen back the gift of speech.

She described the operation as a “miracle” and a “new beginning”, adding: “This operation has restored my life.”

Yesterday, she met the full international surgical team who performed the transplant, carried out at the University of California’s Davis Medical Centre.

Jensen, 52, had not spoken for 11 years after complications during surgery for kidney failure in 1999 harmed her voicebox and left her unable to breathe.

The breathing tube used in the procedure damaged her throat and caused scar tissue, which meant she could not breathe unaided.

She was dependent on a tracheotomy tube for breathing and was only able to communicate through a handheld electronic device which produced artificial robot-like sounds.

In an 18-hour operation in October, surgeons replaced her larynx (voicebox), thyroid gland and trachea (windpipe), restoring not only her speech but the ability to taste and smell.

Just 13 days after the operation, Jensen, from Modesto, California, spoke to doctors and her family.

While her voice remains hoarse at times, it has improved significantly since the operation thanks to the regeneration of nerves in her throat.

She is now re-learning how to swallow and could soon eat and drink normally again. If all goes well, her tracheotomy tube will be removed.

She said: “I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity. It is a miracle. I’m talking, talking, talking, which just amazes my family and friends.

“Every day is a new beginning for me. I’m working so hard to use my vocal cords and train my muscles to swallow.”

Although the transplant involved a donor, the voice Jensen speaks with is her own due to the way air moves through her mouth and the way sound is articulated by her tongue.

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