When Theresa Vitale began losing her voice for months at a time, she knew she needed help.

Theresa Vitale’s initials are “TV,” so it’s only fitting that she found a career as a camera operator and director of photography for a television station. At only 33 years old, her credits with major networks are impressive: Lifetime, USA Network, Bravo, CNBC, and A&E, to name a few.

As a native New Yorker with a degree in communications and intern experience at MTV, Theresa made the trek west to L.A. and found her calling. “How could I go wrong?” she said. “The weather is fantastic, and I’m doing what I love.”

In 2013, Theresa began having vocal issues. She had always had a raspy voice but knew that recent symptoms were not normal: It became hard to speak and she would lose her voice for months at a time. She knew it was more than vocal strain, but after seeing her medical provider and an ENT specialist, she still didn’t have a clear diagnosis. Even after a couple of rounds of steroid treatments, there was no change.

Theresa had limited conversations with her work colleagues, friends and family. She grew frustrated and uhhappy with how her limited voice use was affecting her life. Realizing that her condition was impacting her lifestyle and relationships, Theresa found her way to the USC Voice Center at Keck Medicine of USC, where she met with Michael Johns III, MD, professor of clinical otolaryngology – head and neck surgery at the USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC.

Getting the help she needed

From the moment she sat down with Dr. Johns, Theresa knew she had found the help she needed. “I felt like I had met the right person at the right time — I owe getting my voice back to Dr. Johns,” she said.

Dr. Johns diagnosed Theresa with a cyst lesion on one vocal cord and scarring from the mass on the other. Cysts are firm masses of tissue sometimes found near the surface of the vocal cord or close the vocal cord ligaments.

A second opinion from a reputable vocal surgeon in New York advised operating on both vocal cords at the same time, a procedure that could injure both vocal cords and leave Theresa permanently hoarse.

Dr. Johns’ approach was more conservative and less invasive with a shorter recovery time. He recommended removing the cyst on one vocal cord and monitoring the lesion on the other in hopes that it would heal when the mass was gone. “Dr. Johns was able to work with me to come up with a plan that worked with my job and my life,” Theresa said.

Both the surgery and recovery were successful, and as hoped, Theresa’s second vocal cord healed and returned to normal operation, eliminating the need for a second surgery. After a full week of utter silence, Theresa was able to speak for the first time. She returned to work eight days after the surgery.

Trust your gut

Today, Theresa’s voice is back to normal — but stronger than ever, with no breaks or cutting out. To care for her voice, she practices healthy habits recommended by Dr. Johns’ team – from proper hydration to voice exercises – to protect and strengthen her voice. She also has advice for others who suffer from the same condition and are seeking relief.

“You have to trust your gut about your doctor. Don’t give up because you will find the right person who can help,” Theresa said. “Dr. Johns gave me my voice back. Now, I am me again.”

That’s just another example of The Keck Effect – giving people a voice to live fuller lives.

Learn more about the USC Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and the conditions it treats.

By Heidi Tyline King