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Hello? Can You Hear Me?

Dec 17

Posted by: ACHA
12/17/2012 1:49 PM  RssIcon

By Christy Sillman

You know that list they’re required to read to you before surgery? The one that states all the possible complications—I mostly remember death or dismemberment. I closed my ears, swallowed hard, and signed the paper with a silent prayer. I don’t, however, remember them saying “you could lose the ability to speak.”

Prior to my last surgery I was quite a chatty person. I used to talk all day and night to anyone who would listen. As a teenager my parents had to get me my own separate phone line and I practically had the phone glued to my ear. Then, at 17, the height of teenage talkativeness, I had my pulmonary valve replaced, and I woke up from open heart surgery without a voice.

The surgeon “bumped” a nerve that paralyzed the left side of my diaphragm and my left vocal cord. Suddenly, I couldn’t speak above a whisper.

My surgeon insisted that my voice would come back in a week or two. I spent the next year waking up every morning with a hopeful “HELLO???”—praying that my voice had magically reappeared overnight.

I was a theater major, a singer, and an annoying loudmouth before my surgery. After surgery I was quiet, reserved, bashful, and depressed. I couldn’t go through the drive-thru without a friend to place my order. I was the quiet girl at the college parties, not because I wanted to be particularly mysterious, but because I literally couldn’t talk above the music.

This was the worst of times for me. I was lost without my voice. I was angry but I couldn’t yell or scream.

Then I just stopped fighting it. I accepted it. It was my new reality and I had to move forward because time was moving me forward whether I liked it or not.

I changed my major from theater to health sciences—a pathway that eventually led me to nursing.

I found peace in the quiet.
I became a better listener.
I became a better friend.
I found the power in my voice behind a pen.

Today, I’m thankful for the loss of my voice. I wouldn’t be who I am today without it, and I wouldn’t have the quiet insight it has provided me.

Almost 15 years later my left vocal chord is still paralyzed, and although my right vocal chord has compensated, there are still some days where I talk and only silence comes out.

Sometimes, in our CHD journey, we come across roadblocks we never expected. The challenge is to find a way to accept it, move forward, and eventually embrace it.

I’ve found my voice. It’s in the calm, quiet lessons I teach my son, the support I’ve received through this blog and ACHA, and the collaboration of the many people who help speak up with me.

Christy Sillman was born with tetralogy of Fallot with pulmonary atresia and now works as a pediatric ICU nurse. She is passionate about working with both children and adults with congenital heart disease. Christy writes a weekly column on her experiences as a nurse, ACHD'er, and new mother, which you can read at by clicking here.

Copyright ©2012 ACHA

Location: Blogs Parent Separator ACHA Blog

3 comment(s) so far...


Re: Hello? Can You Hear Me?

Hello Christy,

I lost my voice at the age of seven, when I went in for one of my many open heart surgeries and I am now 32 years old. I also was a talkative child before I lost my voice, but I have grown up with my whisper of a voice. Some people (still) have judged me as slow or dumb and yell at me thinking that I am deaf.I can hear just fine and I am not dumb. I do have difficultly with certain words and I still get nervous when I meet new people. Loud restaurants,clubs or venues and I don't mix well together. I am thankful for what voice that I do have and want to teach others that we can't judge others by the way we speak. Thanks for sharing your story.

By Emily Bramlett on   12/17/2012 9:18 PM

Re: Hello? Can You Hear Me?

Thank you so much for sharing, this exact same thing happened to my son during one of his open heart surgeries when he was just 8 months old. He has only had a whisper since & I cannot wait to have him read this to know that he isn't the only one, because some days he feels that way. It is also reassuring to me, as his mom, to know that he can lead a productive life. He is so afraid he cannot go to college & even have a career because of his communication limitations. No matter how many times his father and I reassure him that he will be able to do these things, he still makes the comments that he cannot. Thanks for sharing!

By Jamie Miles on   12/17/2012 9:19 PM

Re: Hello? Can You Hear Me?

I'm the reverse. Seldom talked as a child, teenager and for a while as an adult. Now "they" can't keep me quiet.
I have a question for you: how do you communicate in your nursing career? I wanted to be a pediatric cardiology nurse, but didn't get to.
I'm glad you're able. I had a friend who used a voice resonator to talk, because she had had cancer surgery on her throat, and that's how others could hear her.
Thanks for your answer.

By connie on   12/19/2012 10:12 AM

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