Surgery delivers gift of speech to cancer survivor

Throat cancer denied Kevin Plummer the ability to talk in 2020 but the Riverview man has found his voice again after successful surgery at Ipswich Hospital. 

The 57-year-old’s speech was restored by West Moreton Health Ear Nose and Throat specialist Dr Stephen Kelly, who inserted an artificial voice prosthesis to imitate Mr Plummer’s voice box, which was removed in May 2020 during laryngectomy surgery for advanced laryngeal cancer. 

With a wry smile, Mr Plummer said it was now much easier to get his son's attention, rather than trying to write a message on a whiteboard, and he was learning to find “his own voice” after two years without a voice box. Throat cancer survivor Kevin Plummer

After his 2020 surgery, Mr Plummer learnt to talk using an electrolarynx, a handheld device that is held to his throat to help produce sound, or he improvised by communicating with his hands, written notes or phone apps to convert text to talk. 

Once he had made a good recovery from his cancer treatment, Mr Plummer was offered a “secondary puncture” with a voice prosthesis to help restore his voice. 

“With the electrolarynx you can’t whisper, and you can’t really yell. You can get your feelings across and your emotions across more with the voice prosthesis,” Mr Plummer said. 

“When I use the voice prosthesis, people can understand the words a lot easier because it is my voice and now all I have to do is learn to use it a bit better and I can find my own voice, and the voice I want to use.” 

Since his surgery in June, Mr Plummer has had ongoing therapy with West Moreton Health speech pathologist Lauren Wagner to learn how to talk with and care for his new voice prosthesis. 

“Going from no speech at all after his 2020 surgery, to learning to adapt to different communication alternatives and now using his own voice again with a voice prosthesis is really rewarding to see,’’ Ms Wagner said. 

“With ongoing practice and use of his voice prosthesis, we hope we’ll be able to transition Kevin to a device where he won’t need to use his hand to cover up his stoma when he has something to say. Hands-free communication will be an exciting milestone in his recovery.”