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Friends of Hospital make generous donation to launch new service in Darlington

Imagine the effect on your life if you lost the ability to communicate properly by speech. If your voice became so weak, quiet and breathy that it became too tiring to speak and you couldn't even use the telephone.

This condition is known as vocal cord palsy and is caused when one side of the larynx stops functioning and the weakened cord allows air to escape. There are many reasons for this happening and some patients with cancer of the lungs or neck will develop vocal cord palsy, however this is a condition that can happen on its own, to anyone, at any time.

Until recently patients in and around the Darlington area had to travel to James Cook University Hospital for a surgical procedure to treat this condition.

However, ENT Consultant with County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, Mr. Shane Lester has introduced a new treatment at Darlington Memorial Hospital which will see patients being treated locally. With the purchase of new equipment in conjunction with the Friends of Darlington Memorial Hospital about half of these patients may be treated as an outpatient without the need for a general anesthetic.

Mr Lester said: "Previously patients with vocal cord palsy would be referred to James Cook Hospital for treatment which would involve an open procedure including a surgical incision and an overnight stay. However, there is an alterative procedure which would be suitable for a large number of these patients - vocal cord injections, some of which can be performed under local anaesthetic and we are now in a position to launch this service at Darlington Memorial Hospital.

"Suitable patients would be treated in an outpatient setting, under a local anesthetic. We deliver the injection of Radiesse directly into the vocal cord. This has become possible thanks to the generosity of the Friends of Darlington Memorial Hospital and the purchase of state of the art digital video-scope equipment. The injection repositions the weak cord helping strengthen the voice. The patient is then able to recover faster and going home after only 2 hours observation.

"Patients who are not suitable for the vocal cord injections under local anesthetic will still be able to be treated at Darlington Memorial Hospital. These treatments really make a difference to a patient's quality of life as it becomes easier for the patient to speak. We expect to be treating approximately 16 patients a year in total at Darlington. 

"We must really thank the Friends of Darlington Hospital for their support and generous donation which has enabled us to fund the state of the art equipment required to set up this service. The equipment will also allow advanced diagnosis and treatment of other voice conditions, not previously possible locally. This will be provided through a "gold standard" Joint Voice Clinic where Mr. Lester and Mrs. Jaclyn Morton (clinical lead Speech and Language Therapist), will be running a "see and treat" clinic. Patients will be assessed and offered Voice Therapy at the same sitting, thereby cutting out unnecessary and distressing waiting times for patients.

"Finally, the equipment will also be available to help Head and Neck cancer patients come to terms with their disease and show them when they have been cured."

The hospital has been able to invest in the latest Xion digital videolaryngoscopy and stroboscopy needed to launch this service in Darlington thanks to the support of the Friends of Darlington Hospital group.

The Friends donated £35,000 towards the cost of the equipment which enables clinicians to take sharp images and video of the larynx through an endoscopic procedure with a camera. A flash light is used to freeze the fast moving larynx to produce the best quality images and the equipment also enables extra information about the vibration of the larynx.

Alan Charlton, Chairman of the Friends of Darlington Memorial Hospital: "When Mr. Lester brought this project to me our funding committee was immediately interested as the concept of enabling people with lung cancer to improve their quality of life by recovering the ability to speak falls into  "The Friends" objectives of providing additional patient comfort and care. We have been pleased to provide funding for the equipment and would thank the people who have helped us with their donations."

It is expected that the first local anaesthetic vocal cord injection procedure will be carried out in February next year.

'As I was very, very nervous, I must have been the worst patient ever and they were brilliant with me and I can't thank them enough - could you please pass on my sincere thanks.'

Patient, Hysteroscopy Unit, Chester-le-Street Community Hospital