Collaborative care restores the voice of a Luther College music student.

Kirstin Roble
Collaborative care between Mayo Clinic and Winneshiek Medical Center diagnose and treat Luther student Kirstin Roble with dysphonia, a disorder impairing her ability to produce sounds.

Music to her ears

Preparing for her senior year at Luther College, Kirstin Roble faced one of her biggest challenges of higher education: the vocal performance major was diagnosed with a cyst on her left vocal chord. “I was often ill during my junior year, causing frequent vocal hoarseness and limiting my ability to even complete a single voice lesson.” With her sights set on earning a master’s and then doctoral degree, Kirstin’s vocal coach suggested she be examined by a specialist.

“After I could hardly sing at a graduate school audition, I saw Dr. Remington at Winneshiek Medical Center.” William Remington, M.D. is a Mayo Clinic Health System ear, nose, throat, head and neck surgeon at Winneshiek Medical Center. Kirsten adds, “Dr. Remington examined my vocal chords and referred me to Mayo Clinic to be seen by a vocal chord specialist.” They detected the cyst and Kirsten was diagnosed with dysphonia, a disorder impairing her ability to produce sounds.

Following surgery to remove the cyst, Kirstin was prescribed complete vocal rest for two weeks. “Not being able to speak at all for two weeks was extremely difficult for me – all of my friends know I am extremely chatty,” says Kirstin. Easing back into vocal use as to not damage her sensitive vocal chords, Kirstin began an intensive therapy program with Winneshiek Medical Center speech-language pathologist, Kelli Zeimetz-Mehmert, SLP. Kelli says, “Kirstin’s case was interesting in that a variety of health care providers were part of her care and the future of her chosen career path was at stake. Kirstin realized how important post-operative therapy was, and her commitment to rehabilitating her vocal cords and restoring her vocal abilities led to a complete recovery.”

Speech pathology at Winneshiek Medical Center and Mayo Clinic taught Kirstin how to speak resonantly, or to use her voice to its fullest potential. “Many people unknowingly speak in a way that places stress on their neck and vocal cords,” says Kelli, “which can cause the voice to sound weak, hoarse, breathy or rough. In some cases, polyps or cysts can develop due to continued misuse. Therapy helps restore vocal abilities, improving many patients’ quality of life.”

Kirstin’s experience has  led her to an expanded career path: researching voice disorders in female singers. She says, “The entire experience opened my eyes to the effects of vocal disorders on professional singers, and through teaching voice and as a vocal scholar, I hope to encourage other singers as they face the effects of dysphonia.”

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