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Medicine Science

Woman's Voice Restored After Larynx Transplant 246

mvar writes "A woman in the US is able to speak for the first time in 11 years after a pioneering voicebox transplant. Brenda Jensen said the operation, which took place in California, was a miracle which had restored her life. Thirteen days after the surgery she said her first words: 'Good morning, I want to go home.' It is the first time a larynx and windpipe have been transplanted at the same time (image) and only the second time a larynx has ever been transplanted. In October, surgeons at the University of California Davis Medical Center removed the larynx, thyroid gland and 6cm of the trachea from a donor body. In an 18-hour operation, this was transplanted into Ms. Jensen's throat and the team connected it to her blood supply and nerves. Thirteen days later, she was able to speak her first croaky words and is now able to talk easily for long periods of time."
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Woman's Voice Restored After Larynx Transplant

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  • And so ends (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:04PM (#34957066)

    The happiest 11 years of one man's life.

    • "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened." -- Obi Wan, Star Wars Episode IV

  • by Even on Slashdot FOE ( 1870208 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:04PM (#34957070)

    What does she sound like now, anyway? And what was her voice like before?

    • by I8TheWorm ( 645702 ) * on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:07PM (#34957128) Journal

      She sounds like James Earl Jones now. The good news is she also sounded like him before.

    • by TheLink ( 130905 )
      Another question: will it work on animals?

      I know we could have animals use computers to talk, but I'm curious what they'd do if they had a suitable larynx.
      • by Kilrah_il ( 1692978 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:34PM (#34957560)

        Talking needs both the suitable anatomy and the right "circuitry" (i.e. brain connection). While we may be able to implant a suitable larynx, the animal lacks the suitable brain connection for two reasons:
        1) There was no evolutionary push to develop it, since there was no suitable anatomy (assuming the anatomy and neuroanatomy develop together).
        2) There was no push for the brain circuits to develop in the animal's life, in the same way that a deaf person will not be able to hear properly, even with a hearing aid implantation (a cochlear implant), if he didn't hear anything in the first few years of his life.

      • They would thank you for all the fish.
    • You can hear her on the video in TFA. She sounds a bit like Yoda crossed with disguised Leia, but you can see how momentous it is for her. Really quite moving.

      • This [youtube.com] video has some video of her talking a little later. She still sounds worse than most smokers, but she's perfectly understandable, and the voice is identifiably female.
    • I was wondering the same thing. I would assume - once healing is complete - she will sound similar to the donor; not identical though, as she'll still have a unique method of using her vocal cords.
      • No. Most of your voice comes from your head - your sinuses, your nose, your mouth. The larynx can only really change the pitch at which you talk. Two examples:

        1. The talking guitar (most famously, Peter Frampton's). The sound is produced by a guitar but modulated by his head and sent to a second microphone.

        2. The little buzzers that produce a robot-like voice in people who have had a laryngectomy (Ned on South Park is probably the most famous fictional character I can think of with this, although that e
  • Oh noes! (Score:3, Funny)

    by Locke2005 ( 849178 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:05PM (#34957090)
    They can replace Adam's apples now? Now how are we gonna tell the real females from the trannies?
    • Re:Oh noes! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by the linux geek ( 799780 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:29PM (#34957472)
      "Real females" vs "trannies." How tactful.
      • Right, and distinguishing between "real blondes" and those that dye their hair is derogatory too...
      • "Real females" vs "trannies." How tactful.

        How does tact enter into this?

    • 1. Somebody who's a male-to-female transsexual is female. Period. Regardless of what they look like. Similarly, a female-to-male transsexual is male.
      2. Most of the FtM transsexuals that I know never had a very pronounced adam's apple to begin with.
      3. Some genetic females have an adam's apple. In fact, I know some genetic females with larger adam's apples than some of the transsexual females I know.
      4. Surgery to get rid of the Adam's Apple has been around for years. Tracheal Shave surgery [wikipedia.org] is done on an outpa

      • If they word "tranny" offensive, they should probably avoid their local transmission repair shop.
      • The first page of Google responses for Tranny don't have a fucking thing to do with transmissions. I'd say if the shoe fits the transsexuals can wear it. Tranny it is.
        • by Velex ( 120469 )

          That's odd, I Googled "transsexual woman" and got something completely different. I think I'll wear that shoe instead.

          Pro tip: women born transsexual usually have two options: 1.) Gender transition. 2.) Suicide. As a culture we need to get over this idea that someone who has the wrong physical sex for their gender goes through gender transition to satisfy some sexual thrill.

          It's wrong, completely wrong. There's a mountain of evidence that says that it's just simply factually incorrect. You might as

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      Bone structure. The female skeleton is quite unlike the male skeleton, and no amount of surgery will hide it.

      • by Velex ( 120469 )

        Bone structure. The female skeleton is quite unlike the male skeleton, and no amount of surgery will hide it.

        I was going to moderate this thread to hell and back, but decided to reply instead since you have a valid point. Please pardon my rant since it's not a direct reply to you, but more a commentary on this thread as a whole.

        I'm lucky. Despite my male birth, I have a relatively easy time passing and I even get guys flirting with me. Not all trans women are as lucky as I am in that department.

        This issue is why it is critical that transgendered children are identified and diagnosed before puberty. Transsexu

        • It's worth pointing out that voice is, by far, the most important factor to your ability to pass, though. I know some transwomen who look absolutely gorgeous, but as soon as they open their mouth the illusion is broken. Similarly, I know some transwomen who are 6' tall, 200lbs of muscle, and who have absolutely no problem passing at all, even without having had any surgeries.

          You're right about skeletal structure, and about the damages done by testosterone during puberty, but a person's body language and the

        • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

          Cheer up, it's a whole lot better than it used to be. Seventy years ago if you'd been found out you'd have been murdered. And it's getting better all the time.

          The "not a woman because you can't have children" is a stupid argument. Does that mean a woman who's had a hysterectomy is no longer a woman?

          You mention that you get guys flirting with you, but I'm 100% male inside and out (body and brain), yet gays still hit on me.

          • by Velex ( 120469 )

            Seventy years ago if you'd been found out you'd have been murdered. And it's getting better all the time.

            Yes, and I'm thankful I only lost my family when I let them know. In hindsight, I'm lucky that's all that happened, but my family is a little militia-type "the end times are here" kooky anyway. It's not a big list, but here you go: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_unlawfully_killed_transgender_people [wikipedia.org]

            The flip side is that I'm always flabbergasted when I talk to a transsexual woman who has an ongoing relationship with a family that accepts her, and that seems to happen frequently.

            I probably could pat

        • Agreed, both sexuality and gender should be considered as a continuum, not as a binary either/or construction. Just like left and right handedness, most people tend to cluster towards one side, but there are still people at all points in the continuum.

          In an ideal world, yes, all people would be allowed to choose their gender identity for themselves before puberty. I tried to raise my daughter in a unisex manner, but discovered that it is impossible -- everyone will force expectations on children based on
    • Ah makes me think of a certain song:

      She walked up to me and she asked me to dance
      I asked her her name and in a dark brown voice
      She said Lola, L-O-L-A, Lola, L-L-Lola

      I guess they could replace the voice too!

    • by Velex ( 120469 )

      This may shock and amaze you, but in most cases from what I understand, this surgery would not be needed for a male-to-female transsexual to sound female. A masculinized voicebox is, in general, capable of producing a female-sounding voice with practice.

      (Anyway, when I use my male voice while dressed as a male, it astounds me that in spite of how obvious my birth sex ought to be, some people still think I'm female like that! Just imagine how easy it'll be for me to "trick" one of you boys once I finally

      • The difficult part is regaining the sound range of an immediately prepubescent boy. An eleven-year-old no longer has a "childish" sound to their voice except the range is a bit high. As I discovered to my great amusement at that age, there's a good reason they get adult women to voice the parts of boys in movies and TV. As long as the entire business could be conducted over the phone, I had no problem convincing people that I was an adult woman rather than a preteen boy.
  • does that mean the possibility of me getting surgery to change my voice to sound like Bruce Willis?
  • So that poor donor can't talk anymore?? SO cruel! How can this be legal???
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Trevorm7 ( 1082535 )
      If the donor body was able to talk, we would have a much bigger problem to worry about...
    • by Cwix ( 1671282 )

      It probably came from a cadaver.

      Why would you assume it came from a living person? Do heart transplants come from a living person? Now that person cant pump blood anymore.. SO cruel !!1!

    • There are some people where it should be legal to stop them from talking.

  • by nebaz ( 453974 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:07PM (#34957138)

    I wonder if Roger Ebert could be helped by something like this.

  • by h00manist ( 800926 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:09PM (#34957172) Journal
    If every part of anyone's body can be replaced, and even completely transfigured and upgraded for various other better parts, what is a human being?
    • We are basically brains attached to a bunch of replaceable parts.

      • by Velex ( 120469 )

        And the really scary thing is that our brains are a bunch of replaceable parts, too.

        (We just haven't figure out how quite yet.)

        • Well the question is how much of the brain is really part of "self". Obviously a congresswoman has a bullet pass through her brain and she is still herself but at what point does that change.

          • Well the question is how much of the brain is really part of "self". Obviously a congresswoman has a bullet pass through her brain and she is still herself but at what point does that change.

            Good question. At the time, some said here [wikipedia.org].

        • No, the scary part is that the software running on the hardware get's reprogrammed constantly and that the whole concept of self is more fluid then we like to admit.
    • It's more basic then that. Every human being is made up of about 60 Trillion cells working together in a symbiotic relationship. So when breaking down the "Unit", at what level do you start addressing life? The Cell, the Human being, civilization, or the entire Biosphere?

    • by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

      I know people with artificial hips, knees, and shoulders. I have an artificial focusing lens in my left eye. How does being a cyborg make any of us less human?

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      Turk: So, dude, you don't understand. When I operate, I don't see a person, I see a machine with parts that need to be replaced and circuits that need to be rewired.
      J.D.: So you think you're a robot mechanic?
      Turk: As a surgeon, the more detached I am, the more focused I am. And it's pretty impossible to feel focused or detached when this guy's family's watching every move I make.
      J.D.: Well, I wouldn't worry about that. Mr. Milligan only has a son and Elliot lost him.
      Turk: Awesome!... For me.

      Dr. Cox: It's ac

    • My CPU is a neural net processor; a learning computer.

    • If every part of anyone's body can be replaced, and even completely transfigured and upgraded for various other better parts, what is a human being?

      A captain of the Ship of Theseus [wikimedia.org].

    • Morpheus: What is the Matrix? Control. The Matrix is a computer-generated dream world built to keep us under control in order to change a human being into this.
      [holds up a Duracell battery]
      Neo: No, I don't believe it. It's not possible.
      Morpheus: I didn't say it would be easy, Neo. I just said it would be the truth.
      -credit IMDB

      I had to because no-one else had made the joke. (Moral obligation)

  • by Myji Humoz ( 1535565 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @03:11PM (#34957210)
    This is a seriously amazing time to live in, as multidisciplinary medical research teams are finding ways to give patients second chances at a relatively normal life. I can't imagine not being able to speak again for the rest of my life, (seriously, try taking a vow of silence for a single day) but I'm glad that the pool of "horribly life changing events without a cure" is getting whittled down bit by bit. Kudos to the research and operations team, and best of luck to the patient.
    • Yeah, every time I see one of these articles I forward to my "anti-(western)medicine" friends. You know the ones - they use words like Big Pharma and Quacks all the time, and are convinced the "Man" is keeping various life-saving herbs and natural remedies out of our hands because "there's no money in them".

      I wonder which herb or tree bark fixes the physical inability to speak? Which one massively, provably brings down the death rates from breast cancer or leukemia? Which one fixes your busted ass knee o

      • by unkiereamus ( 1061340 ) on Friday January 21, 2011 @07:26PM (#34960870)
        I work in (real) medicine, I'm a fervent believer in it, and I use the phrase "Big Pharma", not to degrade the medical practices, but rather the business decisions.

        My favorite example is the drug Zofran, it is the gold standard in chemo anti-nausea meds (with some arguments to be made for pot, but I'll not get into that.). We're talking the chemo patients who haven't been able to keep any food down for a week, and nothing else worked, unless they had particularly good insurance, Zofran was the last option, and it almost always worked...the reason it was the last choice is that it was sold for a bit over a thousand dollars a dose.

        When it came off patent, and the generic manufacturers got started on it, would you care to guess how much they were selling it for?

        Go ahead, guess.

        Nope, you're wrong, about a dollar fifty a dose.

        Now, I can have some sympathy for the argument that they need to recover the R&D costs, but due to what amounts to legal maneuvering, they managed to extend their patent for basically 15 years from FDA Approval to it coming off-patent...Did they really need 15 years of about a 70,000% markup?

        That's my favorite example, but it's far from the only one.
  • How much does the voice-box lend to a person's unique speech vs. the geometry of the throat, mouth and sinuses? If she's out at the mall the donor's family hears her speak will they think the deceased has come back from the dead?
    • I'd imagine it is much like a trumpet and it's mouthpiece. If you put a trumpet mouthpiece on a trombone it's probably more likely going to sound like a weird trombone than a weird trumpet.

    • Read the article - it's mostly how the lungs pump the air, mouth, lips, tongue, etc.. form the words. voice-box has very little to do with it.
  • when you receive a donor liver, kidney, lung, etc. from a donor, it's invisible. but a donor's voice?

    it's just so personal

    you open your mouth, and out comes the voice of someone else, who is dead


    of course its still a wonderful gift, but its just a creepy wonderful gift, that's all i'm saying

  • I'm so glad it wasn't a robotic mouth. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dD_NdnYrDzY [youtube.com]

  • Woman's mind restored after linux transplant.

APL hackers do it in the quad.