Tom Keifer looks back on beating career ending vocal chord problems

Tom Keifer looks back on beating career ending vocal chord problems

In a recent interview with Pat Bywater of Goerie, Cinderella frontman Tom Keifer looked back on his vocal chord problems and the struggles that he endured.

Excerpts from the Goerie article state:

“…The vocal cord paresis, or neurological weakness, that struck Keifer is a fairly common form of a relatively uncommon ailment. The cause was most likely a virus and it struck his left vocal cord.

Statistics on just how many cases of vocal cord paresis occur each year in the United States are hard to come by.

A Cleveland Clinic study of vocal cord paralysis — complete loss of motion in one or both cords — using medical reports from 2009-11, estimated the number of cases in the U.S. at 100,000 a year, but did not attempt to enumerate the number of paresis cases.

Dr. Rick Fornelli sees a total of about 52 cases a year of paralysis and paresis in his work at Erie-based Ear, Nose & Throat Specialists of Northwest Pennsylvania.

Paresis runs the gamut from near-paralysis in its most extreme form to very mild weakness, Fornelli explained. As a result, many less extreme cases can go unreported and even unnoticed by individuals who do not depend on their voice for their livelihood.

Keifer, like many others who have paresis, initially struggled to get a diagnosis.

The condition is often misdiagnosed, Fornelli said, because the common symptoms, such as a hoarse or breathy voice, are often associated with other ailments, such as a cold or the flu, and most primary physicians do not have the expertise or equipment to examine the larynx to detect paresis.

Adding to the difficulty of understanding the frequency of the condition is “that a large percentage of viral cases will resolve within six to 12 months,” Fornelli explained. As a result, some people get better before they are even diagnosed. If the paresis does not abate within a year, the condition is unlikely to improve.

“Depending on the severity of the paresis,” Fornelli said, “a singer would have significant difficulty” with the stamina, power, pitch and range of his/her voice.

Keifer’s voice was unpredictable and he was told that he would likely never be able to resume his career. Sometimes he could not sing at all. At other times he would experience uncontrollable, abrupt changes in pitch and tone. Sometimes it seemed there was improvement, but it inevitably was followed by another descent into unpredictability….”

The article from Goerie goes on to state what Keifer had to endure to beat his vocal chord condition:

“…That process took nearly 20 long, hard years, six surgeries, many vocal coaches and incredible highs and lows as Keifer’s singing voice improved some, only to give out again.

A good deal of the difficultly initially came from using muscles surrounding the vocal cords in an attempt to compensate for the weakness. Fornelli explained that in the long run, this can cause even more problems.

“Think of it like a runner trying to overcome an ankle injury,” Fornelli said. “They may change their form. When they are trying to compensate, they can develop secondary issues.”

Through vocal coaching — which Fornelli described as key to successful treatment — a paresis patient literally has to learn how to talk again, this time using technique and form that was never a conscious consideration in the past. It’s often a tough assignment to get back to speaking normally, let alone singing professionally. “It’s like having a physical therapist,” Fornelli said.

Keifer saw a number of vocal coaches who did help some, but then he met former opera singer and current voice coach Ron Anderson in 2009. “He kind of made it all make sense, as well as showing me a few things,” Keifer said. “It only took a few sessions. He absolutely saved me.”

You can read the rest of the article at Goerie.