Operation helps woman to speak again after 11 years

A woman who was unable to utter a word for more than a decade has spoken of a "miracle" after her speech was restored in a pioneering transplant.

Brenda Jensen was unable to speak or breathe on her own before the operation, carried out by a team of international experts including a UK surgeon.



The transplant, which involved an organ from a dead donor, is the first time both the voicebox (larynx) and windpipe (trachea) have been transplanted at the same time.



It is only the second documented larynx transplant worldwide. The first was carried out in Ohio in 1998.



Ms Jensen, 52, described the operation as a "miracle" and a "new beginning", adding: "This operation has restored my life."



Today, she met the full international surgical team who performed the transplant, carried out at the University of California's Davis Medical Centre in October.



Ms Jensen had not spoken for 11 years after complications during surgery for kidney failure in 1999 harmed her voicebox and left her unable to breathe.



During a spell in intensive care and under sedation, Ms Jensen repeatedly pulled out her breathing tube, causing damage to her throat and scar tissue, which meant she could not breathe unaided.



She was left dependent on a tracheotomy tube for breathing and was only able to communicate through a handheld electronic device which produced artificial robot-like sounds.



In an 18-hour operation, surgeons replaced her voicebox, thyroid gland and windpipe, restoring not only her speech but the ability to taste and smell.



Just 13 days after the operation, Ms Jensen, from Modesto, California, spoke to doctors and her family.



Footage of Ms Jensen's first words shows her smiling and saying "Good morning. I want to go home."



While her voice remains hoarse at times, it has improved significantly since the operation thanks to the regeneration of nerves in her throat.



She is now re-learning how to swallow and could soon eat and drink normally again. If all goes well, her tracheotomy tube will be removed.



She said: "I feel so blessed to have been given this opportunity. It is a miracle. I'm talking, talking, talking, which just amazes my family and friends.



"Every day is a new beginning for me. I'm working so hard to use my vocal cords and train my muscles to swallow.



"I'll probably never sing in a choir or anything but it's exciting to talk normally, and I can't wait to eat, drink and swim again."



Ms Jensen, a diabetic who underwent a kidney and pancreas transplant four years ago, was already taking immunosuppressant drugs to prevent those organs being rejected.



This made her a good candidate for the current procedure, which was made possible by a female organ donor killed in an accident.



Although the transplant involved a donor, the voice Ms Jensen speaks with is her own due to the way air moves through her mouth and way sound is articulated by her tongue.



Martin Birchall, professor of laryngology at University College London, was part of the team which gave Ms Jensen back the gift of speech.



He said the operation was more complex than the previous one carried out in Ohio because it involved transplanting much more tissue than before.



He said today: "I have just seen Brenda and she's just stunning.



"Her voice is almost normal and there's far more movement in the area than I would have expected.



"It's very moving."



He said that, until now, patients have only faced reconstructive techniques dating back 150 years.



In the latest operation, Prof Birchall worked closely to ensure the donor organ was removed correctly, and played a key role in repairing nerves.



Lead surgeon on the transplant, Dr Gregory Farwell, from UC Davis, said: "We are absolutely delighted with the results of this extraordinary case.



"The larynx is an incredibly complex organ, with intricate nerves and muscles functioning to provide voice and allow breathing."



Ms Jensen was not considered suitable for other, conventional surgery because the passage of air through her voicebox and windpipe was completely blocked.



Dr Peter Belafsky, from UC Davis, said Ms Jensen was "an exceptional candidate for the transplant because she was highly motivated.



"Anyone who's met Brenda knows that she is a strong and determined individual with a terrific outlook on life despite the many physical challenges she's faced over her lifetime."



Dr John Williams, head of clinical activities at the Wellcome Trust, which funds some of Prof Birchall's research, said: "This is a truly extraordinary achievement and a genuine breakthrough.



"Professor Birchall and colleagues have clearly transformed the life of their patient and their work offers much hope both for patients in need of similar procedures and indeed for research into transplantation and regenerative medicine in general."

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

    £37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

    Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

    £25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

    Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

    £16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

    Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

    Day In a Page

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea