December 13, 2012

Julie Andrews and Her "Botched Throat Surgery"

It has already been well-publicized that the former singing sensation Julie Andrews underwent some type of throat surgery in 1997 after which she never regained her phenomenal 4-octave voice thus relegating her to more conventional roles of being an actress without the singing. This "botched throat surgery" per Julie Andrews lead to a lawsuit that was ultimately settled.

It is unknown precisely what type of (presumed) vocal cord pathology was present as well as what type of surgical approach was used to try and fix it. In a recent interview, she stated:
"The operation that I had left me without a voice and without a certain piece of my vocal chords"
However, given her aggressive and active singing career prior to surgery, she probably had vocal cord nodules, a benign growth that occurs due to vocal overuse, a situation not uncommon with professional singers.

Vocal cord nodules are most always due to excessive voice use leading to "callous" formation on the vocal cord lining, much like shoveling dirt will eventually lead to callous formation on the hands.

Traditional standard of care management of vocal cord nodules is voice therapy and avoidance of any activities leading to voice abuse (screaming, yelling, etc). However, resolution of nodules with such behavior focused treatment takes months. However, although it takes a while for the nodules to resolve with this treatment method, they typically do not come back.

For patients who are more "impatient" for results (not unusual with professional singers whose livelihoods depend on singing), there are more aggressive ways to address vocal cord nodules with possible resolution within weeks. However, the caveat is if the underlying voice behavior that led to nodule formation in first place is not addressed, the vocal cord nodule WILL recur after initial resolution/improvement. Furthermore, as with any more invasive treatments to obtain a "quick fix", scar formation may occur leading to permanent voice changes, usually for the worse which obviously happened with Julie Andrews.

What are some of these more invasive treatments beyond voice therapy? To reiterate, these procedures also have a high risk of recurrence if underlying abusive voice behavior that led to the nodule formation in first place is not first addressed.

• Surgical excision can be performed, but can lead to permanent scar formation during the healing process that can lead to persistent irreversible hoarseness.

• Botox injection can also be pursued which causes a "partial" vocal cord paralysis preventing the repetitive trauma in the region of the vocal cord nodule.

Steroid injection to the vocal cord nodule(s) can possibly resolve or reduce the nodule resulting in improved vocal quality within weeks. Such local injection technique has mainly been performed in the treatment of spasmodic dysphonia (botox injection), vocal cord granulomas, and vocal cord paralysis. Watch a video how a "local injection" to the vocal cord can be performed (video shows injection of vocal cord granuloma rather than nodule, but overall approach is identical).

Read more about vocal cord nodules here.

Julie Andrews' Voice Isn't Coming Back, But She's Not Staying Silent. Huffington Post 12/5/12

PUBLIC LIVES; Julie Andrews Sues Throat Surgeon. NYT 12/15/99

Julie Andrews Settles Lawsuit Against Doctors. ABC News 9/7/12

Fauquier blog
Fauquier ENT

Dr. Christopher Chang is a private practice otolaryngology, head & neck surgeon specializing in the treatment of problems related to the ear, nose, and throat. Located in Warrenton, VA about 45 minutes west of Washington DC, he also provides inhalant allergy testing/treatment, hearing tests, and dispenses hearing aids.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

She should have gone to Mass Eye and Ear like Steven Tyler did. Should have done her research on doctors!

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