Eye on Health: Voice Transplant
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- A woman in California is speaking up after 11 years of silence.
She lost her voice after a breathing tube permanently damaged her airway, but in October she became the second person in the world to undergo a voice box transplant.
For more than a decade, Brenda Jensen has lived without a voice, using an electronic device to help her speak.
"Kids always look at me in amazement, they think I'm a robot," says Jensen.
Brenda met the full international surgical team who performed the rare operation last October, which has given the 52-year old mother and grandmother back her voice.
"It sounds pretty good, I'm impressed," says Jensen.
Brenda stopped speaking 11 years ago after a breathing tube used during surgery damaged her larynx.
She also uses a tracheotomy for breathing.
"It's been a long road, it's been a lot of work, but it's getting better every day," says Jensen.
During the eighteen hour operation, doctors replaced her larynx, thyroid gland and trachea using organs from an accident victim.
"As only the second documented transplant in the world, she will serve as a living laboratory," says Dr. Gregory Farwell, UC Davis Transplant Surgeon.
Doctors say Brenda was a good candidate because she was already taking anti-rejection medication from a previous kidney and pancreas transplant.
In this surgery, it was the first time the wind pipe and thyroid were transplanted simultaneously, allowing Brenda's natural voice to be fully restored.
"It's just been totally life changing in so many ways. And like I said, I've got friends I call back east, they didn't even believe it was me. They kept saying no it's not Brenda, look at your caller ID, it's me," says Jensen.
Before surgery her twelve-year old granddaughter had never heard her speak.
"Now I think it's more normal and it's more like an actual person instead of a robot," says Sandra Sims, granddaughter.
And Brenda says the best part about ditching her electronic voice box, is not worrying about its battery life.
"You always have to worry about when you're in the middle of a conversation your battery goes dead, and then you don't have a voice again," says Jensen.
The next step for Brenda is to have the tube in her throat removed.
The world's first successful larynx transplant was performed in 1998 at the Cleveland Clinic.