In early 2015, Jill, a 62-year-old McDonald resident, kept losing her voice. On March 30, she went to the Emergency Department at Washington Health System with shortness of breath and fatigue and was admitted to WHS Washingtin Hospital. The decision to seek care likely saved her life.

“I performed a procedure at the bedside to look at Jill’s vocal cords,” says Edward Stafford, MD, Otolaryngologist–Head and Neck Surgeon at WHS. “It was immediately apparent she had a tumor of the larynx [voice box]. It was large, blocked her breathing passageway and paralyzed one of her vocal cords. I suspected the tumor was malignant.”

A biopsy confirmed Dr. Stafford’s suspicion, and imaging revealed the tumor had invaded the thyroid cartilage. Surgery to remove Jill’s larynx and lymph nodes from both sides of her neck was the best option.

Dr. Stafford performed the surgery on April 8. A week later, speech-language pathologists fitted Jill for a speech prosthesis. She went home on April 20. “I couldn’t speak initially,” Jill says. “I wrote everything down—it felt like I had to write a novel! I was always positive, and my family was wonderful to me. My husband and the WHS speech-language pathologists worked with me until I could speak again.”

Six weeks of radiation therapy during the spring and early summer robbed her of the ability to speak once more, but her voice returned after treatment ended in July.

“The first two times I saw Dr. Stafford after I finished radiation, I couldn’t speak,” Jill says. “The next time I went to see him, I was speaking so well he asked if he could take a video of me to show to another of his postoperative patients who needed encouragement. I agreed, and Dr. Stafford told me later the gentleman cried because he was so touched I did that for him.”