HealthWatch: Adele’s Performance Shows Advancement Of Vocal Surgery

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(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS 5) – Adele’s voice won her six Grammy Awards Monday night, including for record, song and album of the year.

But that voice was in trouble last November, when the 23-year-old underwent vocal cord microsurgery to stop recurrent bleeding from a benign polyp, a problem that had caused her to cancel tour dates.

The surgery took place at Massachusetts General Hospital, performed by Dr. Steven Zeitels.

“When you have vocal bleeding, you simply can’t perform,” Dr. Zeitels said.

Based on Adele’s a capella performance of her hit song “Rolling in the Deep” to 60 minutes Anderson Cooper and during her Grammy performance, it’s safe to say her voice sounds great.

What does the man who helped Adele get to the stage have to say?

“We have generally tried to advance the state-of-the-art of voice surgery over the last 15 years, developing instruments, laser technologies, and the ability to do things that simply weren’t done even 10 years ago, with the very famous case of Julie Andrews,” explained Dr. Zeitels.

Andrews, who lost her singing voice after a botched surgery in 1997, has undergone four procedures with Zeitels since, and currently works with him on a voice restoration foundation. Other famous singers he’s treated include Cher, Lionel Ritchie, Steven Tyler, John Mayer, and Roger Daltrey.

Vocal cord polyps are sometimes caused by years of vocal abuse, the America Speech-Language-Hearing Association said.The growths appear as blister-like lesions or bumps on the cord. Symptoms of a polyp include a rough, scratchy voice, a sensation of a lump in the throat, neck pain, vocal fatigue, and a decrease in pitch range.

Dr. Zeitels said that he used laser technology called KTP, or a green light laser to remove the non-cancerous polyp from Adele. For the singer to completely heal, she needed to not talk for two full months after surgery. “It was really hard to get my point across, ” Zeitels said.

But the surgeon says Adele’s famous case has spread awareness, and is leading others with vocal cord problems to seek help, sometimes for more serious issues.

“They’re helping us get the word out, and that is what has been most gratifying recently with Adele’s case – the majority of the people who are seeking our help are sick. They have real serious issues going on” said Zeitels.

He said other serious problems that damage a person’s voice – regardless of whether they are a professional singer – include cancer, badly blocked airways, or damage from earlier surgeries.

Zeitels said any time a singer (or singing teacher) performs with vocal cords that are not 100 percent – for example, if the person has the sniffles – the vocal cords might swell and lead to damage over time.

As for Adele, Zeitels said, “I think she is repaired and I think she is going to continue to do wonderfully.”

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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