A Singer's Story: Kitt Reuter-Foss
Nobody knew it, but in 1999, Kitt Reuter-Foss was certain her singing career was over.
The Madison-based opera singer had known something was not right with her internationally renowned voice for many years: Her vocal range was off by at least an octave, and her mezzo-soprano voice was making unhealthy sounds when she tried to practice, teach or perform.
She was taking medicine to control the allergies she thought were causing her problems, but the feeling remained. In 1997, she began experiencing acid reflux, further irritating her vocal cords.
"I was thinking, I have to hang this up," says Reuter-Foss. "But it's taboo to talk about these issues in the circles in which I run. The assumption is that you've done this to yourself through bad technique. You can't walk up to a conductor and say, 'Something's wrong with my voice.'"
Fortunately for Reuter-Foss - and her legions of fans - she was able to discuss her problem with the doctors and voice specialists at UW Hospital and Clinics' voice and voice disorder research program. In a very real sense, a team led by Diane Bless, PhD, and Charles Ford, MD, then chairman of the UW Medical School's division of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery, prevented one of Madison's most distinctive voices from falling silent forever.
They began with a complete evaluation.
"In situations like Kitt's, you need to address the underlying problems, the behavioral things the patient is doing that are causing the problems," says Ford.
In Reuter-Foss's case, that meant several things, including her diet (spicy foods, eaten late at night) and choice of exercise (running), both leading to acid reflux.
But the root of Reuter-Foss's problem proved to be a pseudo-cyst that had damaged the tissues on her vocal cords. In her attempts to sing around her problem, she had also developed nodules on her vocal cords. In 1999, Ford removed the cyst surgically, allowing her vocal tissues to heal. Then a team of speech pathologists led by Diane Bless began teaching Reuter-Foss new ways to care for her voice.
"They gave me clear-cut answers," Reuter-Foss says. "I had complete trust in them, and it was fun to be able to talk vocal shop with a doctor."
Today, Reuter-Foss's voice - now a firm soprano - has never sounded better. In fact, in July 2004, she was among six talented Madison-area musicians who offered their voices to "A Celebration of Voice," a special musical performance to benefit the University of Wisconsin-Madison's voice and voice disorder research program.