News Archive

Dot Sowerby's Senior Games 'Fun Raiser' to Support SD Research

NSDA Past President Dot Sowerby, 82 years young, has been running for over thirty years. She started with a jog around the block, but now, she is participating in the National Senior Games. This year’s competition will be held in Minneapolis, MN, from July 5-11, and Dot will be competing in the Running Long Jump, 100 Meter Dash, 200 Meter Dash, 400 Meter Dash, 800 Meter Run, 1500 Meter Run, and 5K Run (3.1 miles). When she returns again this year, this avid competitor will be also raising funds for spasmodic dysphonia research. More...

Besides Dot's age and athletic ability, she has a rare neurological voice disorder called spasmodic dysphonia (SD) which causes the vocal cords to spasm shut making communication very difficult. “Around the time I started running, I began having problems with my voice. At first I felt scared and panicky that I would never have a normal voice again. I remembered the running support group that fostered me, so I looked for voice support groups. It linked me up with the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association. My friends in the voice support system encouraged me and taught me ways to cope and medical options to look into,” Dot shared.

Dot was recently honored at the NSDA Symposium with establishment of the “Dot Sowerby Pioneer Award” to recognize her many accomplishments in raising awareness about spasmodic dysphonia. Once again, Dot pushes forward, utilizing this opportunity to help raise funds for the NSDA. Please join us in supporting Dot by making a donation to the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association by going to and click on the "Please credit this donation to" and select Dot Sowerby's Senior Games Fund-Raiser.

My early days of running were difficult but I persisted and slowly improved.  I receive support from a local running group. There were not many females running in the 1970’s, as most women my age did not grow up participating in track.  I eventually ran a half marathon (13 miles).

In 2010, I started competing in the local Senior Games. I had to qualify in my city, then went to state games and earned the right to participate in National Senior games. Over time, I have won about 60 metals locally and nationally within my age group

Running helps me physically, mentally, and spirituality. When you run, you get endorphins, in your body, which makes you feel good. I also listen to music when I walk or run and feel like I get a “double shot” of endorphins.

Life does not always give awards for overcoming challenges. My voice achievements are just as important as my winning metals for running. You can progress beyond obstacles in your life and try new activities. I hope others will be encouraged to keep moving forward!

Alcohol Responsiveness in Laryngeal Dystonia: A Survey Study

Dr. Kristina Simonyan and her research team at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, conducted an on-line research study to investigate the effects of alcohol on symptoms of dystonia and tremor in a large population of patients. They have recently published the results of this survey and below is the abstract and lay summary. We thank all those in the SD community who participated in this survey. More...

Authors: Diana N Kirke, Steven J Frucht, Kristina Simonyan
The full article on this study was published in the Journal of Neurology (2015): May 1

Lay summary of research
It has long been noted by patients and physicians alike that alcohol improves the symptoms in many patients with spasmodic dysphonia. However, this anecdotal finding has never been confirmed. Thanks to the NSDA community, we were able to survey 641 patients with isolated spasmodic dysphonia (SD, or laryngeal dystonia) and with spasmodic dysphonia combined with voice tremor (SD/VT). We found that more than half of patients in both groups thought that their voice symptoms improve to some extent after drinking alcohol. Patient’s family and friends also noticed similar improvement. The duration of effect of alcohol on voice symptoms was thought to last 1 – 3 hours in both patient groups. Although alcohol is an interesting and potentially powerful agent, the results of this survey study do not imply or recommend alcohol consumption in any form in order to treat SD symptoms. However, this information may help us, the researchers, to start thinking about new and alternative pharmacological agents with effects similar to alcohol in order to develop more efficient treatment options for SD and other dystonias.

Laryngeal dystonia (LD) is a task-specific focal dystonia of unknown pathophysiology affecting speech production. We examined the demographics of anecdotally reported alcohol use and its effects on LD symptoms using an online survey based on Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCapTM) and National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association’s patient registry. From 641 participants, 531 were selected for data analysis, and 110 were excluded because of unconfirmed diagnosis. A total of 406 patients (76.5%) had LD and 125 (23.5%) had LD and voice tremor (LD/VT). The consumption of alcohol was reported by 374 LD (92.1%) and 109 LD/VT (87.2%) patients. Improvement of voice symptoms after alcohol ingestion was noted by 227 LD (55.9% of all patients) and 73 LD/VT (58.4%), which paralleled the improvement observed by patient’s family and/or friends in 214 LD (57.2%) and 69 LD/VT (63.3%) patients. The benefits lasted 1-3 hours in both groups with the maximum effect after 2 drinks in LD patients (p = 0.002), whereas LD/VT symptoms improved independent of the consumed amount (p = 0.48). Our data suggest that isolated dystonic symptoms, such as in LD, are responsive to alcohol intake and this responsiveness is not attributed to the presence of VT, which is known to have significant benefits from alcohol ingestion. Alcohol may modulate the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying abnormal neurotransmission of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in dystonia and as such provide new avenues for novel therapeutic options in these patients.

Dilbert Creator Scott Adams Delivers Keynote Address at NSDA Symposium

Dilbert creator Scott Adams delivered the keynote address at the 2015 NSDA symposium on May 16, 2015 in San Francisco. Having struggled with spasmodic dysphonia since 2005, the popular cartoonist is now helping to spread the word about SD and to support others who are living with the challenge of this neurological voice disorder.   More...

NSDA President Charlie Reavis expresses appreciation to Adams for his participation in the conference. “As keynote speaker for our annual patient symposium, Scott will inspire people suffering from SD with his own story of perseverance, determination and success in spite of the communication barriers caused by spasmodic dysphonia.”

Adams spoke to the importance of resilience in his recently published book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. While addressing how to embrace and learn from failure in order to achieve success, Adams discusses his struggle with spasmodic dysphonia as a central theme in a lifetime of experience in overcoming adversity.

Spasmodic dysphonia impairs communication and can make it a constant struggle to get sentences out. This can affect relationships, causing people to feel isolated or to withdraw. As Adams has stated, “You don’t feel connected to the world just because you are listening. You feel connected when you know you have been heard.”

The presentation was recorded and will be uploaded to view shortly.

Bay to the Breakers Race Raises Over $3,000 for SD Research

It all started as Board Member Stephie Mendel's "wild fundraising idea" to have an NSDA team in the upcoming Bay to Breakers Race on May 17 which is the day after the NSDA Symposium. With her enthusiasm and that of the other Board members, Greater Sacramento Area Support Group Leader Jan Lant took up the cause and found eager runners in her children to represent the NSDA. More...

“I was shocked and so excited when Christie (daughter, 40's) and Matt (son-in-law) agreed to participate in the Bay to Breakers run/walk fundraiser on behalf of the NSDA. When they responded that they would do it if we could just watch our granddaughter (which was like asking kids if they want ice cream), we were overjoyed! Because the symposium is in San Francisco near home this year, they said that they welcomed the opportunity to support me and the good cause of the NSDA,” Jan shared. The race, Bay to Breakers, is the oldest consecutively run annual footrace in the world, a staple to the City by the Bay since May 1912.

From the start of Jan’s SD journey, her children have always been there for her, from driving Jan to her first botulinum toxin injection appointment to continually being supportive and understanding. Jan shared, “Now that it's been 10 years since that treatment, I am so grateful for their readiness to support me and the NSDA, which was the other part of the lifeline that connected me to others with SD, to learn about it, make the most of it and to help others." Jan, her husband, Dennis Delgado, and their children will join us at the NSDA Symposium.

For those of you who attended the first ever NSDA symposium in the Bay Area, you saw firsthand how NSDA founder, Larry Kolasa, masterfully encouraged donations from the generous attendees for Team NSDA in the Bay to Breakers Race the following day. Within fifteen minutes, over $3,000 was raised! Run/walkers, Matt and Christie Cervantes, in their NSDA t-shirts with a big, sparkly “S” on the back of one and “D” on the other (along with their darling daughter), were amazed by the outpouring and generosity of the SD community. By simply having the two participants pass the NSDA “Running for Research” hats around the room, these funds were raised for the NSDA.

Sporting their NSDA shirts and hat for awareness, along with a pink tutu and polka dot socks by Christie to blend with the crazy, colorful crowd, they left the hotel at 6:15 by charter bus for the Embarcadero Hyatt starting area. The weather was overcast, comfortable and perfect for the event. The course was packed and to run required weaving or hugging the sideline, so they did a combination of walking and running together. They also met up with friends in the race from their town along the way.

Amid the hustle and bustle, there were festive costumes of Superman, Speed Racer, Elvis sightings, giraffes, pirates and a 2015 bride and groom, to name a few that were not X-rated. Adding to the revelry were vans playing music along the way and fraternity house type parties on Hayes Street Hill, which was the steepest climb. As they entered the Golden Gate Park area, they actually spotted buffalo and llamas! Only near the Pacific “breakers” at the finish line was it cooler with the ocean breeze. They finished after 2 hours, said it went by fast, was fun and they were back at the hotel by 12:30 p.m.
Matt and Christie want to express their appreciation to the NSDA for the chance to participate in this successful fundraising event and being able to check the Bay to Breakers off their bucket list! And we thank you for your support!

SAVE THE DATE for the 2015 NSDA Symposium

The National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association is dedicated to providing support and education for those living with spasmodic dysphonia and we are pleased to announce the 2015 Symposium on Saturday, May 16, 2015, in South San Francisco. More...

The meeting will bring together expert faculty to discuss the latest information on spasmodic dysphonia along with a very special Keynote Speaker, Dilbert Creator Scott Adams. In addition, it will provide an opportunity for people with SD to network and learn from one another. Click here for more information.

NSDA Celebrates 25 Years

A video Message from Scott Adams creator of "Dilbert" 
The National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association was established as a result of the foresight and desire to help people cope with spasmodic dysphonia. It was brought to reality with the help, dedication and compassion of our Founding President, Larry Kolasa and Daniel Truong, M.D.  More...

From humble beginnings, the perseverance, patience and can-do attitude of this small group of volunteers has grown into a strong organization that provides a voice for those living with spasmodic dysphonia. Let's continue those efforts to ensure that the next 25 years will bring much greater understanding of spasmodic dysphonia through expanded research with improved and more effective treatment options. Working together with one, loud and clear voice, we can achieve our Vision for the NSDA - "Ensure the ongoing viability of the organization that will continue to lead the effort to eradicate Spasmodic Dysphonia" can and will become a reality.

Click here to read more about the history of the NSDA and download the 25th Anniversary Booklet.  


New Children's Book on SD

New Children's Book on SD

Explaining spasmodic dysphonia to children can be difficult. They may not understand why their parent or grandparent's voice suddenly sounds different. Greater Dayton, OH Spasmodic Dysphonia Support Group Leader, Mary Ann Keller, took on this challenge. "My Dad had Spasmodic Dysphonia," tells the story of a young boy learning about the changes in his dad's voice and the impact on their family. More...

Mary Ann's nephew, Matt Klaber, illustrated the book. It is available to order by clicking here. All the proceeds support the NSDA.

Dilbert Creator Scott Adams Shares His Experience with Spasmodic Dysphonia

Dilbert Creator Scott Adams Shares His Experience with Spasmodic Dysphonia

For more than 25 years, the cartoon Dilbert has amused and entertained audiences thanks to its creator Scott Adams. “After working at Crocker National Bank, my first corporate job, I assumed that all the craziness going on there could not be going on anywhere else,” he said. It wasn’t until he moved to Pacific Bell that he realized everything looked the same. That freed him to create the character Dilbert with the correct assumption that his experience was common to other people. After that, the cubicle-bound engineer working for an unreasonable boss at a nameless company was born. Scott recently published a new book entitled, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. The larger context of the book is how to embrace and learn from failures in order to achieve success, but his struggle with spasmodic dysphonia is the narrative vehicle that brings it together in the book. Scott shared his experience with SD in an interview with the National Spasmodic Dysphonia Association. We are also excited to announce that Scott Adams is an Honorary Board member of the NSDA. In this position, Scott will be extremely helpful in our mission to raise awareness about spasmodic dysphonia. More...

Scott was used to losing his voice. At least once a year, he would have a bout with allergies and laryngitis resulting in this, but in 2005 something was different. It had been over a month, and his voice still had not returned. Concerned, he scheduled an appointment with his doctor and this turned into visits to multiple doctors, MRI scans, treatment for acid reflux and strep throat, and finally a referral to a psychologist. After all, wasn’t it a little “crazy” that he could talk fine to his cat and to himself? The recommendation was valium to relax him, but Scott passed on that option and kept looking. He shared,"That felt wrong. I was used to speaking to large groups, and I didn't feel any more nervous in front of people."

Eventually Scott made the connection to his voice problem with his past issue with his hand, a focal dystonia called writers cramp. After typing in vocal dystonia into Google and hearing "his" voice in a video, he discovered that his problem had a name, spasmodic dysphonia. When he was referred to a doctor who specialized in spasmodic dysphonia, his diagnosis was confirmed within seconds of speaking. Scott tried botulinum toxin injections for several sessions but the results were limited. He later learned that one of his vocal cords was out of alignment which could have affected the response. For him though, there were too many variables with the injections, including dosage and placement. Scott was hoping to find a long-term solution to his spasmodic dysphonia and did not want the symptoms to be masked by the impact of the injections. That set him on a varied path of treatments including acupuncture, diet, certain types of cough syrup, relaxation, speech therapy, but still no definite relief of the SD symptoms.

During this time Scott found an outlet by writing his blog. He said, “The blog became incredibly important to me because you don’t feel connected to the world just because you are listening. You feel connected when you know you have been heard. Since I couldn’t do that in person, the interaction in the blog became hugely satisfying and was important to my survival. I was being understood so that kept my spirits up.” Three years later Google proved most effective again in his search for answers. His alerts had been set to receive updates on “spasmodic dysphonia” and through one, he learned about a surgery in Japan. After discussing this procedure with his doctors, he was led to an option much closer to home. An appointment was scheduled with Dr. Gerald Berke, Professor and Chair in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).

Scott jokes that it took about three seconds for Dr. Berke to confirm his SD diagnosis after he said “he-llo.” This appointment offered a new treatment option, a surgical technique called Selective Laryngeal Adductor Denervation Reinnervation (SLAD-R). Dr. Berke, who pioneered this procedure, laid out the risks very carefully. Worthwhile improvement in voice had been seen in about 85% of the cases, but he warned that 15% did not benefit. That 15% ran the risk of not being a candidate for future treatments. Scott shared, “While that was a scary possibility, the quality of my life was so affected by my inability to speak. I had to take this chance because the alternative was a life I didn’t want.” His surgery was scheduled.

A month later, Scott underwent the operation. “The interesting aspect of this procedure is that it doesn’t penetrate to the inner structure of your throat. He is not ‘playing’ with your vocal cords, but rather rewiring the circuitry of the nerves in the front of the neck,” Scott said. It would take about three and half months until the new nerves regenerated and the voice came back. Scott was trying to plan his follow-up visits and was told, there were none. It either works or it doesn’t, which he found amusing.

The recovery was not easy. Scott said he dreaded feeling hungry because his swallowing was affected for months. He tried to speak during those months, but his brain was still not connecting with his vocal cords. All he could do was whisper. But he was not discouraged, because he kept focusing on the final outcome. And then, three and half months after the surgery, almost to the day, his wife, Shelly said something to him, and he spoke back. In disbelief, she said “You just talked.” And while weak and breathy, it was actually speech.

In the months that followed, his voice steadily improved. Scott shared, “My affirmation at the time was ‘I will speak perfectly’ if such a thing even exists. I had a weak nasally voice before I ever got spasmodic dysphonia, but after the surgery, the quality of my voice was substantially better than before SD.” Dr. Berke hypothesized that he might have had “latent” spasmodic dysphonia all his life, but ended up with a far more functional voice than ever before. Scott concluded, “And life has never been more enjoyable or satisfying. But one of my big motivations for writing this book was that I wrote it, in part, for the person in the middle of nowhere who has lost his voice to spasmodic dysphonia.”

Hear Scott's voice by clicking on the links: Pre-surgery and Post-Surgery

REAL LIFE: Spasmodic Dysphonia and Unemployment

Each person's experience with spasmodic dysphonia is different, yet there are common threads that can connect one another. We have a new feature called "Real Life" written from the point of view of the author. More...

Our first feature is by Susan Reagan (pictured left) talking about unemployment and spasmodic dysphonia. Susan shared, "The process of self-discovery has taken such a long time for me to be truly optimistic and no longer bitter." Read Susan's article on REAL LIFE: Spasmodic Dysphonia and Unemployment by clicking here.

More Funding Available for SD/Dystonia Research

The appropriations bill passed recently by Congress included dystonia on the list of eligible conditions for the Department of Defense (DOD) Peer Review Medical Research Program AND this program received an increase of $150 million over the FY13 level!  This increase in funding will allow for more research to be funded and/or for research to be funded at higher levels. It demonstrates the power of advocacy.   More...

We also want to recognize and express our appreciation to the late Honorable Bill Young, Congressman from Florida. Congressman Young had been a champion of dystonia and his support of the addition of dystonia to the PRMRP list was so important this year.  Remember to mark your calendars for April 8 and 9 for Advocacy Day this year.