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Trouble Swallowing? DCH Rehabilitation Pavilion’s Speech Program comes to the rescue

William Flowers thought a sinus infection might be the cause of his dizziness, and he hoped the problem would clear up on its own. But when he awoke on the morning of Oct. 1, 2009, he was still dizzy, and his family noticed that his speech was slurred.

Mr. Flowers, 79, of Tuscaloosa, was soon on his way to the Emergency Department at DCH Regional Medical Center, where it was discovered that he had had a brainstem stroke. As a result of this stroke, he showed signs of oropharyngeal dysphagia (pronounced oro-fah-rin'je-al dis-fay-jah), which is difficulty swallowing caused by weakness and decreased coordination of the muscles of the mouth and throat. Tests revealed that liquids were entering the lungs rather than the stomach when Mr. Flowers swallowed, a condition called aspiration. He began rehabilitation at the DCH Rehabilitation Pavilion at Northport Medical Center, where he initially received liquids and nutrition through a feeding tube.  

Speech Therapist Kelly Sullivan, M.S., CCC-SLP, began using VitalStim therapy to help stimulate the muscles in Mr. Flowers' throat to help achieve proper swallowing.

Later, during outpatient rehabilitation at Northport Medical Center, other swallowing exercises and techniques were added to his therapy.

"More than anything else, Mr. Flowers wanted to be able to drink a glass of sweet tea," said Lisa Morris, M.S., CCC-SLP.

William Flowers follows therapy directions from one of the Speech-Language Pathologists at the DCH Rehabilitation Pavilion who helped him regain his ability to swallow normally.
How VitalStim Works:
VitalStim therapy applies neuromuscular electrical stimulation to the swallowing muscles to create or reteach functional muscle-use patterns that are necessary for swallowing. "Speech therapists from throughout the United States who use VitalStim therapy have reported incredible success, particularly for those patients for whom traditional swallowing therapy has failed," Mrs. Sullivan said. "Benefits of this VitalStim therapy include decreased severity of dysphagia, reduction or elimination in aspiration, decreased pain with swallowing, improved nutrition and hydration, improved facial function, and decreased health care costs."

The Road To Recovery: After Mr. Flowers had completed months of outpatient rehabilitation, Mrs. Morris, his treating therapist, in the Rehabilitation Pavilion Speech Therapy Department at the Northport Medical Center, tested his swallowing abilities. The test showed that Mr. Flowers was able to tolerate thin liquids without any restrictions. "VitalStim Therapy was extremely beneficial in helping Mr. Flowers regain normal swallow function," Mrs. Morris said. "He is now able to drink tea, coffee or any other liquid he desires without special preparations to thicken the liquids."

While Mrs. Morris praises VitalStim for Mr. Flowers' success, he praises her expertise.

"Lisa Morris and the DCH Rehabilitation Pavilion staff have been a lifesaver to me," Mr. Flowers said. "They are wonderful, and they are very knowledgeable. I know that I would not have come this far without them. And I no longer take swallowing for granted."

To learn more about the Dysphagia Program and other therapy services at the DCH Rehabilitation Pavilion, click here, or call 205-333-4900.

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