For 14 Months, He Couldn't Eat or Drink

Aug 12, 2009

For 14 long months, Daniel Steinhauer could not eat or drink, due to the side effects of throat cancer surgery and radiation.

But at Loyola University Health System, Steinhauer learned how to swallow again in a therapy program that included exercising his muscles and practicing swallowing while undergoing electrical stimulation of throat muscles.

Steinhauer vividly remembers his first drink -- a can of cold Diet Coke. "It was like a miracle," he said. "I could hear the harps."

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation, or e-stim, is used to treat dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). As many as 10 million Americans have difficulty swallowing due to cancer treatments, injuries, strokes, Parkinson's disease and other conditions. Symptoms include coughing after swallowing; multiple swallows needed to clear the throat; feeling of food stuck in the throat and spilling food or liquid from the lips.

Steinhauer was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer of the larynx in November, 2007. Following surgery by Dr. Chad Zender, Steinhauer underwent 38 sessions of radiation. Zender is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

The surgery included removing the epiglottis -- a piece of cartilage in the throat that covers the wind pipe. And radiation made the swallowing muscles less elastic.

Steinhauer received liquid nutrition through a tube inserted through his abdomen into his stomach. Although he did not go hungry, he craved food. "I had a yearning for a good steak, or a hot dog, or just anything," he said. He lost 43 pounds.

Not being able to drink was frustrating, too. On a hot day, he would take a sip of Coke, rinse his mouth and reluctantly spit the soda out.

Steinhauer saw several swallowing therapists, without success. "We tried so many different methods, but none of them worked," he said. "It wasn't until I went to Moira Aronson Brown at Loyola that things changed."

Steinhauer, a sales rep who lives in west suburban River Forest, began his swallowing therapy with Aronson-Brown in October, 2008. The regimen included an electrical stimulation device called VitalStim™. Electrodes attached to his neck provided electrical stimulation of his swallowing muscles. The e-stim helped "jump-start" the muscles to contract, Aronson-Brown said. "But he still had to do all the work."

With the assistance of e-stim, Steinhauer became reacquainted with muscles that had become dormant from radiation. "I could feel the muscles better," he said. "I became educated on a technique that allowed me to judge a good swallow from a swallow with aspiration."

It wasn't easy. Learning how to swallow again without food going down his windpipe "was like making a three-pointer with a seven-foot point guard in front of me," he said.

Steinhauer started with Jello and moist, easy-to-swallow foods, and worked up to more difficult foods. Today, Steinhauer can eat ribs, steak, pizza -- just about anything except chocolate, which sticks in his throat.

And he's gained back most of the weight. Now, he said, "I really have to start watching my weight."

Provided by Loyola University Health System (news : web)

Explore further: Cancer survivors who smoke perceive less risk from tobacco

Related Stories

COPD-related problems hard to swallow

Mar 26, 2009

Patients with moderate to severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exhibit a disordered breathing-swallowing pattern that may account for their higher risk of aspiration pneumonia, according to new research from ...

Study compares 2 nonsurgical treatments for reflux disease

Jan 19, 2009

Two non-surgical, non-pharmacological treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) both appear effective in reducing medication use and improving voice and swallowing symptoms, according to a report in the January ...

Recommended for you

Cancer survivors who smoke perceive less risk from tobacco

6 hours ago

Cancer survivors who smoke report fewer negative opinions about smoking, have more barriers to quitting, and are around other smokers more often than survivors who had quit before or after their diagnosis, according to a ...

Melanoma mutation rewires cell metabolism

7 hours ago

A mutation found in most melanomas rewires cancer cells' metabolism, making them dependent on a ketogenesis enzyme, researchers at Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University have discovered.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.