- Associated Press - Sunday, May 18, 2014

TOWSON, Md. (AP) - For Sarah Brady, losing her voice almost meant losing her career.

It began five years ago, when Brady, a 31-year-old elementary school music teacher, started getting very hoarse, very frequently. By Wednesday of each week, she says, her voice was exhausted and scratchy. Her singing voice had changed; she could no longer hit certain notes.

Concerned, Brady consulted with an ear, nose and throat doctor in Hagerstown, who blamed allergies. But the problems worsened.

“I was thinking about changing careers,” Brady said. “I love teaching, but it’s not fair to these kids to have a poor singing model. I thought about going back to get my master’s in physical education or special education - something less vocally demanding.”

Instead, in September, Brady sought a second opinion.

A laryngeal surgeon immediately diagnosed the real culprit: a nasty crop of vocal cord nodules - benign, callous-like growths on an individual’s vocal cords, often developing due to overuse or misuse of the voice.

Brady had some of the nodules surgically removed two months ago and began speech therapy in the Johns Hopkins Voice Center, which is part of the Milton J. Dance Jr. Head and Neck Center at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson.

Her timing was impeccable: GBMC had just unveiled a $1.6 million “Fender Music & Voice Studio” inside the Hopkins Voice Center, where patients with all kinds of voice disorders can receive specialized evaluations and treatment, perhaps while strumming an acoustic guitar or practicing singing on pitch.

The new studio is furnished with $20,000 worth of high-end musical instruments and audio equipment, courtesy of Fender Musical Instruments Corp. The Milton J. Dance Jr. Endowment Inc. supplied the bulk of the funding.

The goal is to provide an enhanced experience for patients that not only makes them more comfortable during treatment but also helps providers evaluate an individual’s voice and correctly diagnose the problem.

“The whole idea was to build a recording studio-type atmosphere where the person could come in and feel very comfortable and be able to recreate the vocal issues they’ve been having without feeling like they’re in a clinical setting,” said Gary Waugh, a former regional sales manager at Fender, who helped facilitate the partnership.

“We put enough gear in there that they could actually bring a few band-mates,” Waugh said. “So they could sit and play and be able to say to the doctors, ‘Did you hear that? That’s the thing (my voice) shouldn’t be doing!’”

The studio opened for patients about a month ago, but GBMC held a grand opening on May 7.

The soundproof room - filled with acoustic amplifiers, a keyboard, several guitars and a smattering of percussion instruments - is nestled among other exam rooms and offices in the Hopkins Voice Center suite, which was expanded as part of the project.

GBMC’s Head and Neck Center sees about 12,000 patients a year, said Administrative-Clinical Director Barbara Messing, adding she expects the Fender studio will draw more traffic.

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