Coping with a Swallowing Disorder

By Britney Glaser - bio | email

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Ten million Americans are evaluated each year for swallowing disorders or dysphagia, something that could prove fatal if it's neglected.  In this Healthcast, we have the story of how one Lake Charles man is enjoying life and food - while living with dysphagia.

In June of 2006, Leo Stanford was a technology consultant for the Calcasieu Parish School Board and a golf enthusiast.  But one afternoon, Stanford's health took an unexpected turn.  "I had taken an afternoon off to prepare for the city golf tournament," says Stanford, "and I played 18 holes and then I went home and started mowing my lawn."

Stanford says halfway through his yard work, he fell. With a history of strokes in his family, he thought he might have just suffered a mild one - but rather than seek help, he decided to brush it off and go on to bed.  "About 1:00 A.M., I woke up and thought I better check, so I started to walk and I couldn't...I fell to the floor."

Stanford told his wife to call 9-1-1 and once at the emergency room, it was confirmed that he did have a stroke. Stanford spent the next week in ICU, followed by one month of inpatient rehab, including intensive speech therapy.  Lake Charles Memorial Hospital Speech/Language Pathologist Pam Honeycutt says, "When he came to me, he was having difficulty swallowing, difficulty talking and was just struggling in his ability to communicate with his wife and his family."

Honeycutt ran a series of swallowing tests and determined that Stanford had a serious case of dysphagia.  "Food or liquid going into the lungs can cause a pneumonia, and it's a bad pneumonia, it's called aspiration pneumonia," says Honeycutt, "that can be very life-threatening."

Through facial and throat muscle-strengthening exercises, Stanford learned to swallow food and liquid in a safer fashion.  "I had to learn to swallow with my chin down and I still do that," says Stanford.

While many stroke patients have dysphagia, it can also affect people with pParkinson's, MS, head injuries and the older population. Here are the symptoms to look out for: pneumonia, increase in temperatures, decrease in weight, coughing and choking during a meal.

If you or a family member is showing any of those problems, you need to see your physician to get an order for a modified barium swallow to see exactly what's going on.

*Once Stanford completes his outpatient rehabilitation at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, he hopes to volunteer his time with other stroke patients...and get back to playing golf.