Caitlyn Dreher is the rare breed of teenager who doesn’t like to spend a lot of time texting. She prefers to speak, whether it is talking to friends, singing in the choir or answering questions in class.
When a lingering disorder left her without a voice, Caitlyn had no choice but to live through whispers and text messages for nearly four months.
“It was really hard,” she said. “I’ve always been talkative in school. I’m the kind of girl that sits in the front row and raises her hand to ask questions.”
For years, Caitlyn would lose her voice every few months and wouldn’t be able to speak above a whisper. Like clockwork, her voice would come back two weeks later.
The morning of Nov. 14, 2012, she woke up and her voice was gone again. By the time a month had passed without any improvement, Caitlyn and her family were worried and looking for answers.
“She is normally a Chatty Cathy,” said Susan Dreher, Caitlyn’s mom. “Suddenly she was only able to whisper. She had to rely on text messages. Not being able to hear her say ‘goodnight’ or ‘I love you’ was upsetting.”
Caitlyn had to put a lot of her normal activities on hold. She wasn’t able to sing in school concerts or audition for upcoming events. She also wasn’t able to teach dance lessons to children, another passion, because she had no voice with which to instruct.
Day-to-day life was more difficult without the ability to talk.
“Lunch was the worst,” she said. “While I couldn’t speak, I got kind of distant from my friends.”
After a visit to an ear, nose and throat doctor, who referred the family to the Children’s Voice Disorder Program, Susan brought her daughter to Children’s at North Druid Hills for a voice evaluation. Tracy Herring, CCC-SLP, determined that Caitlyn had muscle tension dysphonia, a condition in which the muscles around the larynx (voice box) are too tight.
In January, Caitlyn started going to speech therapy sessions once a week with Leigh Rogers, CCC-SLP, at Children’s at Forsyth. Caitlyn had to relearn how to speak.
Leigh used various techniques to help Caitlyn relax the muscles in her neck and produce simple words again, starting with “no” and “mom.” After going four months without hearing her daughter’s voice, Susan couldn’t contain her emotion when she heard Caitlyn say “mom” again.
“It was overwhelming,” Susan said. “I cried because I hadn’t heard it in so long.”
By the middle of March, Caitlyn was back to being a talkative teen. She goes back to speech therapy once a month to fine tune her voice and prevent the condition from returning.
Caitlyn’s new voice is a little higher than the old one, but she is more than willing to show it off.
“Everyone was asking me to say different things,” she said. “I was so happy.”