Device gives cancer survivors a new voice

Losing oneís voice box to cancer doesnít have to mean losing oneís ability to talk. Many hours of research have been dedicated to discovering new devices that can allow laryngectomee patients the ability to speak.
The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute is dedicated to preventing and curing cancer. Recently, it has become one of four institutes in the United States to test a new device that will enhance communication for a laryngectomee.
A laryngectomee is a person who has had larynx cancer, a disease that requires removal of the voice box, or larynx. Following the removal of the voice box, the windpipe is brought to the surface of the skin in the neck, creating a hole known as the stoma through which the patient can breathe. This inhibits oneís speaking ability and, therefore, patients must look for alternative means of communicating.
Previously there has been a device that allows laryngectomee patients to talk, but its complexity made it unappealing. Voice could only be achieved when the person covered their stoma with a finger, which would tie up their hands while speaking.
ìI tried two other devices, both of them needed too much pressure, and Iíd get tired,î said Thomas Owen, a Moffitt laryngectomee patient.
Now, with the latest technology that the Moffitt center has received, there is a new way to speak more naturally. The Moffitt center is currently testing a new device called ìFree-Hands.î
The device allows laryngectomees to return to their pre-surgical communication abilities and eliminates the need to use hands while speaking.
ìBefore this new device, they couldnít drive a car and talk at the same time because they need their hands,î said Joy Gaziano, coordinator of the Speech Pathology at the Moffitt Center.
ìIt definitely gives them more freedom, flexibility and improved quality of life.î
Because of the Moffitt centerís state- of-the-art equipment and comprehensive rehabilitation services, Gaziano said it was chosen to be among the four institutes that will lead the testing of this new device.
Thomas Owen, who became a laryngectomee in July, is the first of the general public to test this device, said Gaziano. The concept of hands-free speaking has been around for years, Gaziano said, but until this month it hasnít been accessible to the general public.
The new technology should now be available nationwide. Currently only four patients across the nation are using this device. The outcome looks promising, Gaziano said, and more patients will have the opportunity to test the device.
ìWe have about another dozen who are anxiously waiting to purchase the hands-free device,î Gaziano said.
Each year in the United States, there are 14,500 new cases of larynx cancer and about 1,100 deaths. About 13,400 have survived the cancer, so the need for such a device is increasing. Although the worldwide rate of larynx cancer has been increasing during the past three decades, the cure rate has also been increasing.
There is hope for a new beginning even after such a terrifying diagnosis, Gaziano said. She added that patients feel relief after going through the procedure because it eliminates the worry of troublesome communication.
ìPsychologically, I feel more normal because my voice sounds a lot better now,î said Owen. ìThe first week I came home, I was just talking and talking and talking.î
Owen said his wife jokingly wished for a remote control, but shares his gratitude for the device. j
ìWeíre very happy with it; itís excellent,î said Gaziano. ìThe preliminary results seem very positive.î