Last year, following a stroke and aneurysm surgery, Marian Bell lost her ability to do something we all do thousands of times a day without a moment’s thought. She lost her ability to swallow.
With damage to the nerves that stimulate her left vocal cord and control the left side of her face, Marian’s attempts to eat and drink put her at risk for aspiration. She also had left-sided facial droop and was unable to speak above a whisper.
Upon her admission to Fairlawn, a swallowing evaluation helped pinpoint areas of weakness so clinicians could develop a specific treatment plan.
“Basically, I was faced with having to learn to eat and talk again,” said Marian. “I really worried about how I would get through life if I couldn’t swallow.”
Dependent on a feeding tube during her inpatient stay, Marian worked to improve her breath support and learn swallow strengthening exercises. According to her speech-language pathologist, Karla McAuliffe, the intensity and frequency of Marian’s inpatient therapy at Fairlawn were necessary to maximize her recovery and teach compensatory strategies to help with her swallowing and speech.
Once medically stable, Marian continued her treatment at Fairlawn’s Outpatient Center, where Karla introduced VitalStim®, a therapy that uses a small electrical current to stimulate and retrain inactive or atrophied swallowing muscles.
During the therapy, Marian also did swallowing exercises and food trials, which provided an opportunity to further strengthen the muscles.
“This resulted in improved swallow efficiency and more effective voicing,” said Karla.
Return to eating and drinking was gradual, explained Marian, who used to enjoy eating just about anything and everything. “I started with juices, water, and then puddings. But what I really wanted was ice cream,” said Marian.
“Upon discharge from outpatient therapy, Marian was tolerating regular foods and thin liquids,” said Karla. “Her vocal quality was still soft yet functional for conversational speech — all in time for the holidays!”
Today, Marian’s voice is strong and she is back to eating just about anything and everything she wants — including ice cream.