With my own voice that I recovered for the first time in 20 years, July 5, 19:30

"Shun-chan. Shun-chan. I'm glad."


A slightly awkward female voice.


It was the moment she regained her voice for the first time in 20 years.


Her husband was watching her tears of joy nearby.

The eyes were also moistened with tears.


For his husband, it is his name that his wife called for the first time in marriage.


To be able to speak again to those who have lost their voice.


It wasn't just the voice that was regained.

Lost voice to live

Some people lose their voice by removing their vocal cords from their throat cancer or by making a tracheostomy due to illness.

Although there are no accurate statistics, it is estimated that about 4,000 people lose their voices annually in Japan due to the number of people with cancer of the throat.

Yuki Anping (40), who lives in Adachi-ku, Tokyo, is one of them.



Yuki developed encephalomyelitis, an intractable disease of the nervous system, at the age of 18.

She is a progressive illness, including symptoms of her muscle stiffness.

Currently, she can only move on her own, such as her right hand, and requires 24-hour care.



It wasn't until about 20 years ago that she had a tracheostomy and started using a ventilator that she couldn't make her own voice.


For Yuki, who loves singing, she always sings and was worried by her family when she was quiet, she couldn't speak. It was a big shock.

Yuki:


"When I got sick, I had to make a tracheostomy to live anyway, so I didn't think this would happen. Of course I couldn't speak, but I couldn't make a voice. It made me very sad because I couldn't sing. "

Husband I met after I couldn't talk

Yuki was an active girl who used to play handball in elementary school and was active in the executive committee of the school festival even in junior high school and high school when she tended to get sick.


Even after she got sick just before she entered college, she went to college in a wheelchair and graduated from college while continuing her treatment.


However, after she got sick, she tended to stay home.



Eight years ago, I had a big encounter with Mr. Yuki.


She later met her husband, Takashi (57).

Her nickname is "Shun-chan".

The beginning was that Shun wrote a comment on the SNS where Yuki wrote about daily events and thoughts.


As I exchanged texts, the distance gradually shortened, and eventually I started to make online calls using my smartphone almost every day.



But I can't talk.

Shun-san talked to Yuki, who couldn't speak, by using pictograms and showing the finger letters used in sign language to the screen.



At first she had little desire for her marriage to Yuki.

She thought she wouldn't understand her, including her illness.

However, her feeling that Shun would accept herself as she was became stronger, and she gradually became aware of her marriage.



I wanted to stay by my side forever, and when the two of us could overcome it, I received a proposal from Mr. Shun and got married in June, seven years ago.

Frustrating feelings

However, the communication between the two was a series of trial and error.



In the way of speaking using the "plosive sound" created by pushing out the air in the mouth with the tongue etc., the people around you try to hear what Yuki is saying with the movement of the mouth and the faint sound.

However, even if the veteran caregiver who has supported me for many years understands it, it is difficult to convey it to Mr. Shun.

It's even harder to hear when you're out and the surroundings are noisy.

I also tried a method of communicating one character at a time by looking at the hiragana in the order of the Japanese syllabary written on the transparent dial.

Shun decides where Yuki is looking and reads them out character by character, but it takes time.

It was not uncommon for Shun to forget the text on the way, and for Yuki to stop the conversation itself.



Even though they were next to each other, they gave up direct communication and sometimes sent messages on their smartphones.



It was more frustrating for Yuki-san to be able to convey not only everyday conversations but also feelings of the other person, only indirectly.



Her feelings were the same for Shun, and she felt sorry for not being able to understand what she wanted to say.

Mr. Shun


"I try various words to convey this way of saying, and patiently repeat the same words over and over, but I can't understand. When Yuki gets angry," I'm good. " There was, but I think I was sad when I thought about it later. I think Yuki was suffering more than I thought it was painful. "

What dramatically changed the communication between the two was a new device that helped with vocalization, which I started using last November.


The opening scene is when Yuki puts the device in her mouth and "talks" for the first time.

The word Yuki said for the first time in 20 years was the nickname of her husband, who had always wanted to call her directly.

Mr. Shun


"It's been six and a half years since I got married. It was the first voice I heard, and I cried a little when I was asked to call my name. I felt that

I want to help people who have lost their voice

This device was developed by a research team at Tokyo Medical & Dental University.

I want to make a device that can speak easily for those who have lost their voice.


Professor Haruka Tohara, a dentist who specializes in the treatment of dysphagia, devised a concept for more than 10 years, and graduate student Daishi Yamada created a prototype two years ago.

Professor Tobara


"Many people with dysphagia who are usually diagnosed have lost their voice due to tracheostomy, etc. I have seen many people who give up talking even though their mouths move, and I want to do something about it all the time. I thought. "

To make a voice

How do people make a voice in the first place?

The voice can be produced by shaking the folds called "vocal cords" in the back of the throat with exhaled breath.


There, the original sound that is the source of the voice, which is between "A" and "O", which is more like "O", is created.

Then, by moving the tongue and the entire mouth in various ways, the original sound changes to a sound like "aiueo" and becomes a word.



On the other hand, like Mr. Yuki, if the trachea is separated from the esophagus by a tracheostomy, the vocal cords cannot be shaken.

The same applies when the vocal cords are removed due to cancer surgery.

Currently, the most popular among those who cannot speak is the "electric artificial larynx," a palm-sized rod-shaped device.


The device that produces the sound that is the source of the voice is pressed against the neck, and the tip vibrates to vibrate the air inside the throat, replacing the original sound produced by the vocal cords.


However, it was difficult to apply it to the throat well, and if I didn't get the hang of it, the weak point was that the sound of the machine was directly transmitted to the listener as noise.



There is also a way to use the esophagus to create air and make sounds, but this is also difficult and not everyone can learn it.

What is a voice retriever?

On the other hand, the developed device makes a sound in the mouth, so it is difficult for noise to enter, and it is possible to speak if the mouth can be moved.

In order to use this device, first record the sound of "Oh" that is close to the original sound that is the source of the voice.



A speaker is built into the mouthpiece made according to the tooth profile.

The recording / playback device (sound source) and its speakers are connected, and the original sound is played in the mouth.



By moving the tongue and the entire mouth, the original sound can be replaced with "aiueo" and the like, and words can be spoken.

It is a mechanism to play the sound by pressing the button at your own timing only when you speak.

The device was named "Voice Retriever".

It has the meaning of "regaining voice".



In our laboratory, we make full use of 3D printers by combining parts bought at electronic stores one by one.

The prototype is nearing completion and has been offered to about 50 people who have lost their voice so far.

“Regain motivation” by speaking

Fumio Matsudaira (83), who lives in Kodaira, Tokyo, also lost his voice due to throat cancer after undergoing surgery to remove his vocal cords three years ago.

Mr. Matsudaira postponed the scheduled surgery for eight months because he was afraid of losing his voice.

After that, after being persuaded by his family, he finally decided to undergo surgery.


I was thinking of attending an "electric artificial larynx" class, but the infection with the new coronavirus spread and I had to give up learning.



After that, Mr. Matsudaira became a life that relied on written conversation.


Every time he has something to tell his wife, he runs a letter on a piece of paper.

However, it took a long time and it was more inconvenient than I expected to live without sufficient communication.



His illness prompted him to quit his job as a dentist until his late 70s.

He used to be a sociable and talkative personality, but his inability to speak drastically reduced his chances of going out and increased his quiet days at his home.

He answered in writing about his loss of voice.

Mr. Matsudaira


"I felt that my power was almost gone."

It wasn't until I knew about the voice retriever that I was motivated again.


Since I actually put it on at Tokyo Medical & Dental University in May, I have been training three times a day for 30 minutes in an attempt to regain my weakened mouth movements.



Before actually starting to use it, Mr. Matsudaira said, "I was half expected and half worried."

But he was able to speak again using the device and regained his smile.

Mr. Matsudaira


"I would like to talk on the phone with a friend who lives far away when I can talk more. I want to challenge the" electric artificial larynx "that I had given up someday."

The joy of singing again

Yuki Anping regained his voice for the first time in 20 years.

Her life has changed a lot.

Yuki:


"I've been unable to speak for 20 years, so I'm happy to be able to speak as much as I can. Of course I don't know how long I can speak, but I can talk with my husband as much as possible. I would like to cherish the time of these two people. "

Now, Yuki's daily pleasure is to make online calls with her mother who lives away.



Previously, you could only do simple exchanges that could be answered with "yes" or "no".

If I wanted to talk in a complicated way, I asked the caregiver to interpret using the faint "plosive sound".


Now, I am delighted to be able to catch the words by being able to convey my private things without being foolish.



And there was another big change in Mr. Yuki.



After she lost her voice, she gave up on the song she used to love and never sang it in her heart.


However, the expectation that she may be able to sing with her own voice again is a great force for Yuki to spend her days.

Yuki:


"By regaining my voice, I started singing songs in my heart, thinking that one day I might be able to sing. I was able to revive my enjoyment. Regaining my voice means regaining my voice. I think it's no exaggeration to say that it's about regaining life. "

In the future, the research team will make further improvements such as improving voice quality and making it possible to add intonation, aiming for commercialization at the earliest one year later.



Currently, new attempts are being made in the laboratory.

By connecting the voice retriever and the smartphone app under development, we are making adjustments to see if the volume and pitch of the voice can be changed.


If you use it well, you will be able to sing a song with intonation in your words.



The day when Yuki's dream will come true is just around the corner.

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