Health Watch: Saving Cynthia's Swallow!

ORLANDO, Fla. (KFSN) -- Stroke, injury, and certain cancers and diseases are just a few of the causes for a swallowing disorder. Something that used to be automatic can suddenly become extremely difficult ... or impossible. Two researchers are pioneering a new therapy that their patients say is nothing short of a miracle.

Carlton Vaught and Cynthia Sucher have been married for 43 years. They love their dog Murphy Brown ... and enjoy Vaught's home-cooked meals.

"Cooking is a passion for me and that's probably how I got to know Cynthia by doing special meals like crawfish etouffee and stuff like that for her," said Vaught.

But that all changed after Sucher had surgery for a benign brain tumor and lost the ability to swallow.

Unable to eat or drink anything, Sucher had a feeding tube for five months.

Sucher shared, "I thought I'd eaten my last pizza. I'd eaten my last rhubarb. I'd eaten my last peanut butter pie. It was just ... I just lost hope."

Until she found UCF researchers, who developed an exercise-based treatment for patients to re-learn how to swallow.

Giselle Carnaby, PhD, MPH., CCC-SLP, F-ASHA, Professor of Speech Language Pathology and Internal Medicine, Center for Upper Aerodigestive Functions at the University of Central Florida explained, "So, we no longer view foods and fluids as a source of nutrition in that regard. We view them as barbells in the gym."

"In this approach, swallowing is the exercise. So every swallow is like doing a push up basically," said Michael Crary, PhD, CCC-SLP, F-ASHA, Honors ASHA, Professor of Speech-Language Pathology and Internal Medicine, Center for Upper Aerodigestive Functions at the University of Central Florida.

By Sucher's fifth session, she was eating full meals again.

Vaught said, "It's like she's 500, 600 percent better. It's just unbelievable."

They're back to enjoying life ... and Vaught's peanut butter pie!

Professor Carnaby says treatment typically takes three weeks, with many patients like Sucher recovering more quickly. She says they have about a 90 percent success rate. Professor Crary says they are working on developing a website where patients can find a certified provider that knows the training, in their location.
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