October 6, 2008

Helping You Get Your Voice Back

By Ketan Tanna

Last month, 60-year-old Ram Avtar, a resident of Vikhroli, called retired businessman Satish Sharma in panic. "I have throat cancer and the doctor has decided to remove my voice box. Will I ever be able to speak again?" he asked fearfully. Sharma reassured him that he could. After all, he'd undergone the same operation himself in 2003, and had the same anxieties, but had pulled through marvellously. Which was what inspired him to devote time to helping people in a similar situation.

Months after being diagnosed with throat cancer, when doctors at Prince Ali Khan Hospital assured 49-year-old Sharma that he could speak again after his operation, he thought they were jokinghow could anyone speak when the voice box had been affected by cancer and operated on? But he agreed to the surgery.

In January 2004, his post-operation speech therapy began. "It was painful but I wanted my voice back," he says. "I started with one vowel, A, which we had to practise for hours. It was followed by uttering two vowels-AA and so on. After three months of practice, I could speak without the help of a voice machine."

Inspired by his personal success and also aware of the pain that throat cancer patients undergo, Sharma decided to devote his life to speech-training those who had undergone throat cancer surgery.

Since March 2004, this Navi Mumbai businessman has been devoting four hours a week as a volunteer at Prince Ali Khan Hospital in Mazgaon, helping patients like himself get their voice back.

"It's not tough," he says. "I tell the patients that all they require is a lot of faith in themselves. Besides making them practise the vowels, I also put them through an exercise which is akin to burping. People consider burping disgusting. But do you realise that when one burps after a good meal, the air in the stomach is released? Someone who's undergone surgery for throat cancer can benefit immensely by making a similar sound-it helps the vocal cords. There are various other ways of training your throat to speak. For example, I make patients say words like makaan (house), chaaval (rice) with extra emphasis on the A, which simulates the throat."

According to Sharma, all it takes is a few voice-training sessions at the hospital and follow-up exercises at one's home to regain the ability to speak.

There are those whose profession requires them to speak all the time-like brokers-and for them he advises the use of machines that help them speak without getting fatigued. But for an ordinary person, he says, a voice machine is not required. "In any case, imported voice machines cost over Rs 20,000 though there are Indian- made machines, which are comparatively cheaper," he says.

The 49-year-old Sharma, who used to work as a civil contractor, has gradually moved out of the daily nitty-gritty , which is now handled by his younger brothers and his elder son. "With no commitments, I can spend more time with other throat cancer patients," he says. He also makes house calls for those who are too ill to come to the hospital for training.

Sharma has a word of advice for those who have undergone a throat cancer operation : meditate and control your anger. "One cannot afford to shout and holler in this state. Just consider yourself lucky that you have survived and are still able to speak," he smiles.

Sharma can be contacted on 98706 47429



Thalassaemia is a rare blood disorder that necessitates blood transfusions every month. Sixty thalassaemic children are being given free blood transfusions from infancy through adulthood at Nanavati Hospital in Vile Parle. These patients need vital MRI tests for their heart. The cost of the test is Rs 5,000 per child, and is far beyond the financial capacity of most. Any help would be appreciated. Those who wish to contribute can contact Dr Rashid Merchant (dept of paediatrics) or Dr Deepak Patkar (MRI dept) at the hospital on 26182255 or 26267500.

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