From left: Katrina Boltz, MS, CCC-SLP, Meredith Sullivan, MS, CCC-SLP, Jen Crouse, MS, CCC-SLP, and Ashley Jones, MS, CCC-SLP. Not pictured: Abigail Johnson, MS, CCC-SLP.
When Gordon Jackson was diagnosed with tongue cancer in 2005, his top priority was beating the disease and surviving.
A cancer diagnosis came as a shock to Jackson, who had never used chewing tobacco or smoked cigarettes.
But another major surprise came well after his treatment, years past the date he was declared “cancer-free” in 2007.
After suffering from what appeared to be chronic pneumonia, Jackson was evaluated for a swallowing disorder. He learned that when he swallowed, his food didn’t travel down his esophagus, but instead was being sent down his trachea, or windpipe. The resulting lung infection caused his recurring pneumonia.
Physicians believed that Jackson’s swallowing disorder originated from throat damage incurred during radiation he received as part of his cancer treatments.
Jackson now uses a feeding tube to prevent the situation from happening again. While he is grateful to be healthy, he misses food and the camaraderie that comes from sharing a meal with friends and family.
In addition to his swallowing disorder, Jackson also has trouble speaking as clearly as he once had.
Speech and language disorders can take many forms. People may develop these disorders in a variety of ways, including after strokes, traumatic brain injuries, or falls, or as a result of progressive diseases such as Parkinson’s.
In 2012, Jackson began seeing Ashley Jones, MS, CCC-SLP, Bayhealth Speech Language Pathologist, twice a week for therapy. Jones guided Jackson through exercises to strengthen the muscles involved in swallowing and treatment with Vital-Stim, a non-invasive external stimulation system that retrains the throat muscles.
Speech-language pathologists are professionals who treat all types of speech, language, and related disorders. They have earned a master’s degree and are certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Speech-language pathologists work in schools, private practice, hospitals, clinics, and other health and education settings.
Having beat cancer, Jackson’s primary goal now is to reach a point where he can eat and drink normally again. Swallow tests every six months monitor his progress and determine whether he is able to safely consume food or liquids by mouth.
“I’ll get there,” he said. “I’m a fighter.”
During the month of May, Bayhealth is celebrating our speech pathologists and the innovative work they do to help our patients improve their speech and swallowing abilities. In addition to individual therapy, they also lead workshops, like the Speech Pathology Communication Group, that are free and open to the public.
Our therapists are active in professional organizations such as the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Meredith Sullivan, MBA,MS,CCC-SLP, Manager of Bayhealth’s Speech Pathology Department, serves as the president of the State Board of Speech Pathologists, Audiologists, and Hearing Aid Dispensers, where she oversees statewide licensing.
To learn more about the Bayhealth Speech Pathology Department call 302-744-7095.