For a renowned professional mezzo-soprano like Deborah, her voice is everything. As the Choir Director at Trinity Cathedral in Trenton, and no stranger to operatic stages throughout the region, Deborah knew that the thyroid and goiter surgery she needed came with the risk of losing her voice—or at the very least, losing her ability to sing. That's why her decision to have surgery was so difficult for her.
So she researched. And she researched. She had already spoken with a few specialists in New Jersey, but they couldn't help her. Then a church member at Trinity suggested that she talk with Dr. Drew Ridge, a Fox Chase Cancer Center surgeon at the Temple Head & Neck Institute.
Not only was Dr. Ridge a highly skilled and experienced surgeon who was knowledgeable about Deborah's condition and situation, he was thorough, honest and straight-forward. "He carefully explained to me all the things that could happen with my surgery, including a big risk to my voice. At the end of my visit, he said 'I'm going to try to help you.' And that was it. I just felt good about him. We connected, and I trusted him."
It was trust well placed.
In June 2014, Dr. Ridge surgically removed Deborah's goiter and her thyroid. Afterward, in the recovery room, Deborah learned that Dr. Ridge had been able to save her voicebox. Success beyond imagination, in Deborah's eyes.
But there was still a long road back and a lot of work ahead.
A few months later, Deborah returned to the Temple Head & Neck Institute to begin her speech therapy. There she met a very unusual speech therapist—a woman who was also an accomplished singer. "We could connect on that level, be one together, because she understood more than just vocal mechanics—she knew what it meant to sing."
Together, they started from square one—basic speech and the ability to articulate word sounds; then sentences. Slowly, they moved to singing, and while Deborah's vocal timbre was not affected by the surgery, her voice was now that of a classic tenor or alto. It would take some time to get her back to where her natural vocal range was, let alone to the huge vocal talent that Deborah had been.
But they worked. And they worked. With an intensity and precision even greater than Deborah's formal vocal training in college. "I had to relearn everything, step by step, but I will one day walk back out on that Academy stage, and when I do that, it will be for Dr. Ridge and the wonderful team of people I've met at the Temple Head & Neck Institute. They understood me in a way I did not think possible. It’s been like having a new beginning."