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For years she struggled to speak. Now her daughters can hear her voice again

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After being diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, Deb Dahl spent years seeking treatment so she could speak again. She eventually found a cure — Botox injections in her larynx that stopped the muscle spasms that prevented her from speaking. Andrew Nelson / WDAY2 / 2

FARGO — Imagine being a parent and the only way to communicate with your adult children is by texting.

And not by choice.

Deb Dahl started losing her voice eight years ago. Before she finally found relief and treatment, simple communication was nearly impossible. Her voice sounded like she had an extreme case of laryngitis and with trouble speaking it was hard to work and run errands.

"My voice got steadily worse and worse," Dahl recalled. "I could not talk on the phone. I could not go to a drive-thru."

Dahl had a hard time finding treatment. One ear nose and throat doctor told her it was all in her head.

After four years of frustrating doctor visits, Dahl and her diagnosis of spasmodic dysphonia finally found answers with Sanford ENT specialist Dr. Brent Nichols.

"I remember thinking, oh my God, this is just awful that this person has waited so long to get help, and that I hope that I am able to help her," Nichols said.

And it came after Dahl was ready to give up. Some told her she would have to live with her problem, which made her voice choppy and nearly impossible to understand.

Her daughters had to use their cell phones to talk.

"You can't get everything communicated through text; it is not the same contextually to get a feel and have that human connection," said Dahl's daughter, Bree Langemo.

To treat the problem, Nichols started injecting Dahl's vocal cords with Botox — yes, the same muscle-paralyzing toxin used to get rid of wrinkles.

The injection blocks the signal where the nerve and muscle meet in the voice box, smoothing out the patient's voice, and it just takes a few minutes, according to Nichols.

"I got on the phone right away, left a message with my speech therapist and my daughters, I was like, 'Oh my God, I can talk after four and a half years,' " Dahl said.

Dahl's daughters, Langemo and Libbi Koeppe, remember their mom calling them.

"And when she called — I feel like I am going to get emotional — it was a big deal," Langemo said. "A real conversation and connection. I remember posting on social media: 'I just had a conversation with my mom for the first time in four and a half years.' "

Not all voice problems are spasmodic dysphonia, and so an ENT needs to pinpoint the cause and diagnosis before going ahead with Botox injections. Most patients get the vocal cord injections of Botox every four months.

For Dahl, it has been life-changing.

"He is my hero. Thank God we found him; it is a miracle," Dahl said.

"It is why we do what we do — to help people. And when you see that huge impact, it is so gratifying for sure," Nichols said.

Each year on April 16, the Voice Foundation holds World Voice Day to raise awareness about voice disorders and the importance of the human voice. More information about spasmodic dysphonia can be found on its website.

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