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Cancer patient able to speak again after groundbreaking voice box transplant

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Jul 10, 2024 3:00 pm

A patient whose cancer affected his ability to speak had the chance to talk again after he went through a first-of-its-kind voice box transplant.

In a report by the Associated Press, 59-year-old Marty Kedian from Massachusetts received an "extremely rare" voice box transplant to replace his cancerous larynx from surgeons at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona.

The report detailed that these procedures "normally aren’t an option for people with active cancer," and that Kedian is "only the third person in the US ever to undergo a total larynx transplant." The first two had lost their voices due to injuries, one from a motorcycle accident and the other from a hospital ventilator.

Kedian was chosen along with nine more people as part of a new clinical trial that aims to help patients whose illnesses have affected their ability to breathe, swallow, or speak because of a damaged or surgically removed larynx.

"People need to keep their voice. I want people to know this can be done," he told the news outlet.

He then became emotional as he recounted how he broke the good news to his 82-year-old mother, saying, "That was important to me, to talk to my mother."

Kedian was first diagnosed with a rare laryngeal cartilage cancer about a decade ago and has since gone through more than a dozen surgeries. Eventually, he had to face early retirement because of his illness, which left him needing to have a trach tube to help him breathe and swallow.

Despite doctors urging him to remove his entire larynx to cure the cancer, he rejected the option as he still wanted to read bedtime stories to his granddaughter in his own voice.

Thanks to his wife, however, he was able to become a part of the Mayo study and had a chance to get a transplant 10 months later when a deceased donor had a healthy enough larynx just the right size for him.

Six surgeons performed the surgery on him for 21 hours in February, removing Kedian’s cancerous larynx and replacing it with the donated one. Three weeks later, he was able to say his first word, "Hello," and got to talk to his granddaughter via video.

"Every day it’s getting better. I’m pushing myself to make it go faster because I want these tubes out of me, to go back to a normal life," he said.

The Mayo study was kickstarted by medical center’s chair of head and neck surgery in Phoenix Dr. David Lott, who was inspired to do so as he had seen a lot of patients who are "alive but not really living."

"We want to be able to push those boundaries but do it as safely and ethically as we can," he said.

Despite the successful surgery on Kedian, Dr. Peter Belafsky of UC Davis stressed that they are still considering other options as larynx transplants will likely take years more research.

According to the American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 12,650 new cases for laryngeal cancer will be diagnosed in the US in 2024.