In 1998, Tim Heidler, a 40-year-old Pennsylvania man, uttered a single word and the world of transplant surgery took a huge leap forward. Cleveland Clinic surgeons performed the world’s first successful total larynx transplant on January 3. Mr. Heidler’s own larynx had been destroyed by a high-speed motorcycle encounter with a taut wire. After a 12-huor operation, he had a new cadaver larynx.
Though the patient was not expected to speak for several weeks, his surgeon was impressed by his progress, and on the third day after the operation, encouraged him to try to say something. The patient took a breath. “Hello,” he said in a raspy but perfectly audible voice. In the same operation, surgeons also transplanted the thyroid to ensure that the venous drainage from the larynx was satisfactory, another surgical first for the team.
Over the past 12 years, Mr. Heidler has been interviewed on radio and TV, spoken at medical conferences, and talked to nurses and laryngectomy patients, trying to explain how the surgery helped him and how it could help others in the future.
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