Two days ago, Jessica Kaminski heard the voice of her mother, Yvonne Kaminski, for the first time in 16 years.
"I don't know what it must be like to not be able to talk for 16 years and then all of a sudden you can," says Jessica. "I'm just in shock right now, but so happy for my mom who is so full of life and energy and now she has a voice that matches that."
Yvonne lost her voice abruptly about a decade and a half ago. She thought at first she had laryngitis, but after going to her doctor and an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist at Froedtert Hospital, she learned she had Spasmodic Dysphonia, a neurological condition that causes the vocal cords to spasm.
"The doctor could not tell me if my voice would ever come back or not," says Yvonne. "I was told it’s a very rare disease with no cure and they don’t know what causes it."
Yvonne tried to heal her condition anyway and experimented with speech therapy, acupuncture, massage and, four years ago, Botox, which had been known to work in some people with Spasmodic Dysphonia. However, after the Botox treatment, her voice remained scratchy, quiet and very difficult to impossible for people to understand.
"The doctor has to inject the right muscle with the right dose of Botox and every person is different, but for me, it didn’t work," says Yvonne. "Nothing worked."
Yvonne, who is a registered nurse, eventually left her job at the 16th Street Community Health Center – not because she was asked to resign, but because she felt badly for her patients because they couldn’t understand her.
Yvonne started doing volunteer work, but found the same frustrations she did in her nursing job. Jessica sensed her mother’s disposition starting to wane and so she started to research Spasmodic Dysphonia groups. She found one locally and encouraged her mom to go.
Yvonne went to a support meeting and met a few people who had recovered from the condition through Botox. She told them that she tried Botox and it wasn't effective, but they suggested she try again because sometimes it takes more than one injection to work.
"Before that meeting, the only person I met with Spasmodic Dysphonia was an insurance salesman who randomly came to my door," says Yvonne. "I felt like we were kindred spirits."
Because she could not use the phone for 16 years, Yvonne communicated with people through social media and simple hand symbols.
"I thought we would learn American Sign Language someday," says Jessica.
On Tuesday, Dec. 27, Yvonne went back to Froedtert for more Botox injections in her vocal cords – and this time it was successful.
"It was the best Christmas present ever," says Yvonne.
Jessica says it was an emotional experience for her, her family and her mom’s friends to finally hear her mom's voice after so many years.
"My uncle always told me that when my mom was younger she was feisty and sassy – a fighter – and I knew that was inside of her but it couldn't come out," says Jessica. "And now it does."
Yvonne says the most difficult part about not being able to speak was not engaging in oral conversations.
"I have a lot of things to talk about; a lot of ideas and opinions," says Yvonne. "Since last Tuesday, I’ve been talking my husband’s ear off."
Most likely, Yvonne will receive follow-up Botox injections every three months and eventually, hopefully, only occasional treatments.
"Even if I have to take an injection once a week, I’ll do it," says Yvonne. "It’s such a gift."
During her 16-year almost-silence, Yvonne missed reading to her grandchildren and singing in church. On New Year’s Day, Yvonne was able to sing at mass for the first time since she lost her voice. Earlier this week, Yvonne recorded a voicemail message on her phone.
"I listened to it over and over again," she says.
Despite feelings of isolation, Yvonne says her 16-year affliction helped her to be a better listener as well as a more compassionate person.
"As a nurse, I was already compassionate toward people with disabilities, but this made me even more so," she says.
Yvonne believes the unwavering support from her friends and family – along with her own optimistic attitude – helped to cure her condition.
"I always had hope," says Yvonne. "Life is too short not to be able to talk. So I was optimistic, but I also believe it was a miracle."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.