Woman regains voice after rare larynx transplant

Doctors say a Modesto woman is able to speak again after a rare operation to replace her voice box. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

January 20, 2011 7:24:08 PM PST
An international team of doctors performed a larynx transplant, and it's only the second time it's ever been done. The procedure has restored a Central Valley woman's ability to speak.

That life-changing transplant was performed three months ago and for the first time since then, the patient was back at UC Davis surrounded by her entire surgical team. Those doctors are surprised by how quickly she's progressing.

For more than a decade Brenda Jensen could not use her voice. Now the 52-year-old Modesto woman is a chatterbox. She is only the second person in the United States to have a larynx transplant.

"It's a long journey and I'm still working hard, but its improving every day," she said.

Jensen showed off her voice at a news conference in Sacramento, where she thanked her entire surgical team for the first time since the transplant. The complex, 18-hour surgery took place over two days in October 2010 and was performed by a team of surgeons from UC Davis, Sweden and England.

"This is just about the most complex transplant you could possibly wish to perform," Dr. Martin Birchall from University College London said.

Jensen has diabetes and cancer. During a previous surgery 11 years ago, the removal of a ventilation tube in her throat paralyzed her vocal chords and left her unable to breathe normally. She used a mechanical voice box that gave her a robot-like sound.

"I wanted to talk again and I'm doing it and it was very much worth it to me," she said.

Jensen was an ideal candidate for the larynx transplant because she is already on the medications that help prevent organ rejection as the result of a kidney-pancreas transplant four years ago.

Jensen's surgeons call her "a living laboratory" and say her success provides hope for thousands of others. The only other documented larynx transplant was done in Cleveland back in 1998.