When actors, singers or speakers lose their voice, this ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist puts them on the road to recovery
When Dr. Wendy LeBorgne first met Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Thom Brennaman at Cincinnati’s Professional Voice Center in 2016, he was struggling with chronic hoarseness and vocal fatigue. It was compromising his ability to provide play-by-play commentary during Cincinnati Reds broadcasts and NFL games.
The physician he’d been seeing referred him to Dr. LeBorgne in an attempt to avoid phonosurgery — the preventative removal of any benign lesions in the throat that are affecting the voice — if at all possible. But after a course of voice therapy and seeing that Thom hadn’t improved enough to get him back on the air full-time, Dr. LeBorgne made a recommendation to Thom’s physician that he consider undergoing vocal fold surgery followed by rehabilitative voice therapy. Though his healing process took several months, Dr. LeBorgne was there to guide Thom every step of the way.
“Our goal was just rebuilding strength and stamina,” Dr. LeBorgne recalls. “He does over one hundred baseball games a year and calls football games for FOX, so getting him to be able to do that again post surgery, we [had] to start rebuilding slowly.”
His surgery was in June and by the end of July, Thom was back in the booth. Though not 100 percent just then, he was miles ahead of where he’d been through a combination of a great surgeon and rehabilitative voice therapy. Thom is just one of many vocal professionals Dr. LeBorgne has rehabilitated in her more than 20-year career as a voice pathologist. Her goal is to get her patients’ voices back to where they were before injury and reintegrate them into their normal lives. For many of her clients normal is performing on Broadway or around the world, preaching at megachurches or spending several hours a day in front of a television or film camera.
Dr. LeBorgne compares the voice rehabilitation process to a marathon runner who’s had an injury and wants to one day compete again. To rebuild Thom’s stamina, she also had to help him rebuild his vocal strength and the flexibility of his vocal system. Those tactics included therapies using anything from Vocal Function Exercises (Stemple) to dynamic range exercises where he progressively spoke louder in a structured environment to Resonant Voice Therapy.
“I’d have him practice with phrases such as, ‘three strikes and you’re out’ or ‘home run’. He would practice the players’ names and incrementally and systematically work on increasing vocal intensity with minimal vocal strain,” she says. “It’s about making sure my patients are doing the right exercises the right way, given their audience.”
And though there have been many success stories throughout her career, they don’t come without their frustrations.
One of the hardest things about her job, Dr. LeBorgne says, is counseling patients through their voice crises. When her patients can’t vocally communicate what they need, it can be career jeopardizing, especially because for most of us, having a healthy voice is frequently taken for granted.
Dr. LeBorgne’s training as not only a speech-language pathologist, but also as a professionally trained singer has been essential for her career development. As an ASHA-certified speech-language pathologist she helps her patients manage their circumstances and troubleshoot their recovery. The ASHA code of ethics and scope of practice she maintains has been crucial to giving her the credibility, accountability and framework of the optimal care she provides patients.
Whether her patients are professional speakers, singers, actors or educators, voice is a vital part of their daily lives — in fact it’s their entire livelihood, their brand. So when something happens to that brand, it takes a well-trained professional to fix it.
“A lot of hard work on the part of the patient goes into rehabilitating their voice. It may not always return to one hundred percent after an injury,” Dr. LeBorgne says. “But getting [patients] back into performance and watching them do what they love, that’s the most gratifying part of the job.”
Dr. LeBorgne discusses the importance of voice and what it means for our personal brand, and what it means to lose it.