Amy Hancock had three weeks to figure out what her first words would be. Hancock, who lost her voice to laryngeal cancer over five years ago, had time to think about it after undergoing an innovative larynx restoration surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital on May 23.
On June 16, her surgeon, Washington University otolaryngologist Randal Paniello, M.D., removed a tube from her throat, allowing her to speak for the first time post-op.
Her first words: "Thank you Dr. Paniello."
Prior to surgery, Hancock, 26, was only able to speak with the help of an electrolarynx. Hancock would hold the small microphone-like device against her throat to create sound. Now, she can verbally communicate without the help of the device.
Her voice is weak at this point, but Dr. Paniello doesn''t think it will be for long. "We expect with more practice that she''ll sound like a woman with a hoarse voice," said Dr. Paniello. As for the electrolarynx, "she''ll be dropping that in the trash very soon," he says.
Using skin tissue, an artery and a vein from Hancock''s forearm and some cartilage from her nose, Dr. Paniello and his team crafted a makeshift speaking tube and placed it between her trachea and esophagus. To Dr. Paniello''s knowledge, he is the only surgeon to attempt this procedure in the United States.
"It''s worth everything," says Hancock, "It''s worth all the stitches all the bandages, everything."
While there was a chance the surgery wouldn''t work, Hancock never lost hope according to her mother, Mary Anne Pittman. "She said it was going to work," says Pittman, "She knew all along."
Hancock was diagnosed with laryngeal cancer when she was only 20 years old.
After failing to respond to traditional radiation treatment, she underwent surgery to have her larynx removed. Doctors tried three times to perform conventional surgical techniques to restore her voice, but all failed.
The staff at Barnes-Jewish Hospital clearly touched Hancock''s heart and vice versa. Several nurses and staff members from Dr. Paniello''s team came to support her at a press conference for local media following up on her surgery. "I want to thank the doctors and nurses," says Hancock, "I was very well cared for here."