Extraordinary larynx transplant restores voice to California woman

World’s second documented voicebox transplant

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In one of the most complex transplant surgeries ever performed, an international team of surgeons at UC Davis Medical Center has restored the voice of a California woman who had been unable to speak for more than a decade.

The surgical team announced that they replaced the larynx (voicebox), thyroid gland and trachea (windpipe) in a 52-year-old Modesto, California, woman who had lost her ability to speak and breathe on her own. The 18-hour operation, which took place over a two-day period in October 2010, is only the second documented case of its kind in the world. Just 13 days after the operation, the patient voiced her first words in 11 years and is now able to speak easily and at length.

“This operation has restored my life,” says Brenda Charett Jensen, who was raised in the San Joaquin Valley town of Patterson, Calif. “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.”

The only other documented larynx transplant took place at the Cleveland Clinic in 1998. For the physicians in this case, the novel procedure has advanced knowledge in the field of transplant medicine and otolaryngology.

“We are absolutely delighted with the results of this extraordinary case,” said Gregory Farwell, associate professor of otolaryngology at UC Davis and lead surgeon for the transplant. “The larynx is an incredibly complex organ, with intricate nerves and muscles functioning to provide voice and allow breathing. Our success required that we assemble an exceptional, multidisciplinary team,use the most recent advances in surgical and rehabilitation techniques, and find a patient who would relish the daunting challenges of undergoing the transplant and the work necessary to use her new voicebox.”