Throat cancer victim and dad of two Dom Marshall faced a lifetime of being fed through a tube in his stomach and unable to take part in family meals following his chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment.
Fortunately, a specialist treatment that can be used with NICE approved guidelines, has returned the father of two to the meal table. The treatment is currently unavailable on the NHS.
Dom was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma in his right tonsil. Ten weeks of chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment left Dom unable to swallow and being fed liquid food through a tube, called a ‘PEG’, into his stomach.
Despite treatment by a speech and language therapist to help encourage swallowing, he was still unable to drink or eat again.
Following some research on the internet, Dom’s wife Keeley discovered a treatment called VitalStim Therapy involving neuromuscular electrical stimulation, which is being championed by consultant Speech and Language Therapist Sumathi Sinnappan in the UK.
It works by using a machine that sends small electrical pulses through pads on the skin to stimulate the throat muscles. When combined with swallowing exercises, the patient can regain their swallow.
Says Dom, “Before meeting Sumathi my future was grim. I faced being unable to eat or drink ever again and you begin to realise how important this is to the quality of your life. Once when I was on holiday in Cornwall I had to leave a family meal in a restaurant, because all I could do was watch. I went outside onto a bench and burst into tears.
“When I met Sumathi for my first treatment I had no expectation of success, but by the end of that session, having eaten nothing for four months, I ate a yoghurt and drank half a litre of water.
“Each session consisted of the electrical pads being fitted to different areas of my throat and electrical pulses being generated while I swallowed different food and drinks. These ranged from crushed ice, to yoghurt and as the treatment progressed, to more solid food such as a banana.
“After that first treatment, I set a goal with Sumathi of being able to eat a bag of chips by the time we finished all the sessions. On my way to that final treatment I popped into McDonald’s to buy a bag of chips and afterwards ate them in Sumathi’s office. For me this was a major achievement, just being able to do something normal.
Sumathi’s constant reassurance and patience when I was so nervous to start with, helped by the breathing exercises she suggested, gave me the confidence to get through the treatment.
“My life has been transformed and I truly appreciate being able to do the things that others take for granted. If anything, we go out socialising more now than we ever did before my cancer.”
Dom’s treatment involved 10 sessions over a period of just two weeks. The total cost of the treatment is about 10 percent of the cost of Dom being fed through his stomach via a PEG for just one year.
According to the BMJ Best Practice website, two sets of research estimate that dysphagia, or problems with swallowing, affects up to 1.6 million people a year costing the NHS an estimated £30bn.
As Sumathi Sinnapan explains “Eating and drinking is a part of our everyday life; it is essential for socialising in our society. Never mind the total cost of feeding people through a PEG or other measures, each person I see is an individual who is unable to take part in a basic human function. It is about the quality of their lives.”
VitalStim therapy is a specialised form of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) designed to treat swallowing disorders through muscle re-education. The therapy is administered by a small, carefully calibrated current delivered to the motor nerves of the patient’s throat through specially designed electrodes, which cause the muscles responsible for swallowing to contract. At the same time, a dysphagia specialist guides the patient through active swallowing therapy to re-educate their normal swallow function.
The treatment sessions typically start with a minimum 30 minute therapy session and increase in duration to up to 60 minutes over time. Therapy sessions are repeated between three and five times a week until swallowing patterns have been restored to a nearly normal level. Some sufferers see a dramatic improvement the next day, others in as little as three days, with most reporting significant progress in 6 to 20 sessions.
The therapy has helped thousands of patients with dysphagia, including patients resigned to living on feeding tubes. If you or a relative suffer from dysphagia you can find out more information about the treatment at www.vitalstim.co.uk.
Please see the below video to watch Dom’s story to regaining his swallow following throat cancer.