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Thursday, 31 May, 2001, 08:05 GMT 09:05 UK
Voicebox transplant man can sing
Operation
Surgeons operated for 12 hours
The first man in the world to be given a voicebox transplant is now able to sing.

Timothy Heidler was unable to speak for 20 years until he underwent the pioneering surgery three years ago.

According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, Me Heidler can now speak perfectly normally.

In fact, he has recovered so well that he has become a motivational speaker.

Motorcycle accident

Mr Heidler's larynx was crushed in a motorcycle accident in which he rode into a wire strung across the road. After the accident he could only speak with an electronic aid.

He underwent a complex 12-hour operation at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation in Ohio, US in 1998.

The surgical team, lead by Dr Marshall Strome, searched for six months before a suitable donor organ became available.

Just three days after surgery Mr Heidler was able to say his first word in two decades: "Hello".

The transplant also restored Mr Heidler's sense of taste and smell, which is often lost when the larynx is damaged.

Doctors at the Cleveland clinic are now looking for a second candidate for similar surgery.

They believe the operation may help people whose larynx has been lost due to trauma or a tumour.

Risk

However, there is concern that the operation poses an unnecessary risk to patients.

Most transplant operations are carried out to save lives, so the potential benefit outweighs the risks of taking anti-rejection drugs that can have serious side effects.

Transplanting a larynx is not a life-saving procedure.

Mr Heidler had one episode of tissue rejection in April 1999, but doctors were quickly alerted because the quality of his voice began to decline. Drugs countered the rejection.

Writing in the journal, Dr Anthony Monaco, of the Harvard Medical School, said "the ability to detect rejection early bodes well for the treatment of rejection in patients who receive this type of transplant."

Dr Monaco, who himself lost his larynx to cancer, said as anti-rejection drugs become safer and more effective, "more of these transplants will be done" and laryngeal transplantation "deserves evaluation in more extended clinical trials."

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