Department of Otolaryngology

Success Stories

Pittsburgh Blues Legend Billy Price, has worked with the University of Pittsburgh Voice team.  To learn more about his journey click here

"Precise, professional, knowledgeable, patient centered.  The nurses line enables open communication between shots.  My call is always returned promptly with any needed information.  Every step needed for a correct diagonosis was also utilized in a patient, caring, timely manner.  Although I would hope it could be cured, coming here for shots has made my journey less stressful and confident that the best care and decision making for my voice is being made"
Patient with spasmodic dysphonia

As a professional singer and speaker, I was so impressed with how well the Voice Center understood me. When my voice was in a severe crisis, they knew exactly how to help. They understood the demands that are on my voice, and they were able to assemble a team to equip me to be healthy while still doing the things I love. Today my voice is stronger than ever. I really believe that the work of the team at the Voice Center enabled me to continue singing and preaching. Without them, my ability to do these things would be greatly impaired. I have the deepest gratitude for all of the team at the Voice Center, they equipped me to be me.
Pastor, worship leader

“The staff treated me as if I were a member of the family.  I was impressed with the speed of my experience. It seemed like there was no waiting time at all. I felt that I was in an exceptional health care facility with a world-class surgeon.”

Everyone was wonderful, especially Christina, the singing therapist. Really felt Dr. Smith spent a lot of time with me

On my first appointment, they visualized my vocal chords and assessed my speech pattern. They were able to reassure me that my issue was technique vs. something more serious.  The treatment regimen was then set and off we went.  Even more, they provided me a CD of the therapy sessions so, if I experience the same symptoms again (which I have) I can use the CD to practice. One last thing... They’re super kind and welcoming at the office


The Challenge: A Lost Voice

At one point in his career, Craig, a father of two, worked in talk radio in Orlando. His voice was his livelihood. When he moved to Pittsburgh years later, his voice started to give out on him. Eventually, Craig was only able to speak in a whisper.

“It actually changed me as a person. I had been an extrovert, but I quickly became an introvert. I stopped talking to people because they couldn’t hear me,” says Craig.

The Path to the UPMC Voice Center

Although Craig was unable to speak above a whisper for nearly eight years, he didn’t realize that there was a resource that could help him.

Craig met with an orthopaedic doctor for a shoulder injury. The doctor would not move forward with surgery until Craig met with an ear, nose, and throat specialist (a laryngologist) to understand what caused his vocal issues.

The Solution: Voice Therapy

Craig met with Dr. Libby Smith and Dr. Jackie Gartner-Schmidt, directors of the UPMC Voice Center. They assessed Craig’s anatomy and physiology of voice and found his vocal cords never closed. When a person whispers, the vocal cords remain open. To speak, air from the lungs vibrates the vocal cords to make sound. Because his vocal cords stayed open, making sound was very difficult.

Although an exact cause is difficult to pinpoint, Craig had previously smoked cigarettes and extensively used his voice in his radio career, which may have contributed to his condition.

Craig didn’t know what to expect with voice therapy, but Dr. Gartner-Schmidt put him at ease. “She was very open, warm, and comforting,” says Craig.

They met once a week and during their sessions they practiced exercises to make Craig’s vocal cords vibrate. Essentially, Craig was holding back his breath when he talked creating a strained whisper. Therapy involved coordinating his breath so that his vocal cords make sound, as well as educating him about how negative emotions affect the voice. Dr. Gartner-Schmidt also taught Craig about vocal wellness, like writing down frustrations on a piece of paper instead of using the voice to express anger. 

The Results: Clear Communication and Confidence

After years of barely having a voice, Craig noticed results right away. In fact, in less than two voice therapy sessions, he produced sounds and projected his voice at louder volumes.

A special moment happened with Craig’s young son at one of his appointments. “My son was with me during therapy and my voice really broke through and I was able to clearly talk to him. It was really cool and I started to tear up,” says Craig.

Craig still meets with Dr. Gartner-Schmidt, but not as regularly, and continues to improve. His voice improvement has not only helped him communicate better, but his social interactions as well. “I can carry on a conversation better with others. As I get my voice back, I feel more confident and outgoing.”