Fat cells are increasingly being used in cosmetic and reconstructive plastic surgery, and now UConn Health has restored one patient’s lost voice by leveraging the power of fat.
In 2013, Ed Favolise, 70, a retired superintendent of schools in Connecticut, had surgery to remove a precancerous tumor from his chest. Part of the tumor encased a nerve that was severed during surgery, leaving his right vocal cord paralyzed and a major gap between his vocal cords.
For three years, Favolise’s voice was limited to a squeaky, high-pitched whisper while he pursued remedies at three different medical centers. After five surgeries and continuous vocal therapy, Favolise turned to the Voice Center at UConn Health.
Dr. Denis Lafreniere, chief of the Division of Otolaryngology, teamed up with Dr. Andrew Chen, chief of the Division of Plastic Surgery, to offer an innovative solution.
In the operating room, Lafreniere and Chen withdrew fat cells from Favolise’s abdomen, processed and measured them to make sure they had enough pure fat cells, and placed them directly into his injured vocal cord via a needle injector through a laryngoscope. The result? A permanently plumped vocal cord that’s in the proper position to contact the left vocal cord.
“My speech improved immediately and significantly,” says Favolise. “My experience shows that sometimes you need to be willing to take a chance on a pretty surprising, promising alternative medical solution and procedure.”