After 35 Years, Woman Regains Her Voice; Now, She Has 'So Much' To Say

Apr 19, 2011
Originally published on April 19, 2011 10:18 pm

"There's so much that I have inside of me that I wanted to get out," Jan Christian of Alexandria, Ky., told All Things Considered host Michele Norris today.

Now she can.

Thirty-five years ago, at the age of 17, Christian's windpipe was crushed when she was injured in a car crash. As Cincinnati's WCPO-TV reported last week, "she couldn't speak above a whisper and for years, avoided the awkwardness of trying to explain why."

But doctors at University Hospital in Cincinnati were, after several recent surgeries, able to give Christian back her voice.

Christian says it's a thrill to "be louder and more clear. ... And now I'm able to express myself."

It's marvelous, she says, to be able to yell a bit at her children's games. When her kids were playing soccer in years past, "they would score and I couldn't yell so I would just cry."

And she can now more easily tell her husband Randy, she adds, of her love for him.

Michele's conversation with Jan and Randy includes some touching moments about their relationship, from their first meeting (at a disco dance) to when she knew that she loved him — first, when he cried over the death of his pet rabbit, and soon after when he kissed the back of her hand when they were on a date. "I'm going to marry that guy," she told herself.

Much more of Michele's conversation with Jan and Randy is due on today's broadcast. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. And later today, we'll add the as-aired version of the interview to the top of this post.

Meanwhile, here is WCPO's report.

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Jan, welcome the program.


NORRIS: When you finally could finally talk after what sounds like very complicated surgical process, I'm just curious: What was your first word?

CHRISTIAN: My first sound I made was an E, and the next sentence was: Did you hear that? I was so thrilled just to be able to be louder and more clear. There's just - there's so much that I have inside of me and that I wanted to get out.

NORRIS: Jan, you're there with your husband Randy. Randy, we're across the country from each other, and right now in this moment, I sure I wish I was there in the studio with the two of you because I can imagine the smile on your face as you listen to your wife.

RANDY CHRISTIAN: You know, I'm her husband, and I'm there to be her helper, and so at times I felt like I had let her down because I didn't quite hear her. So I would try to catch myself, you know, overcompensating in another area to kind of make up for it. But if I just pay attention and I listen, then of course I could hear her.

NORRIS: Jan, how did you two communicate in all those years where you couldn't rely on using your voice?

CHRISTIAN: Well, I had a killer whistle. So when it was time for my kids to come in, I would use that. And a lot of body language.

NORRIS: Body language?

CHRISTIAN: I use my hands a lot. I think I use my expression and my eyes a lot, trying to - you know, use eye-to-eye contact.

NORRIS: I'm thinking when you're talking about eye-to-eye contact, I'm thinking about the kids and if - Randy, since you could raise your voice, you were probably the disciplinarian, but Jan, I wonder if you had to, as a mother, perfect the look.

CHRISTIAN: Yes, I did.

CHRISTIAN: I was just going to point out.


CHRISTIAN: She does have the look.


NORRIS: All mothers have a version of the look.


CHRISTIAN: That's correct, yes.

NORRIS: I was just curious: How did you meet the doctor who restored your voice? And did you really believe in him? Did you have faith in him when he said that he might be able to bring your voice back?

CHRISTIAN: And this one lady handed me, you know, Dr. Khosla's number and said if anybody could do anything, he could. And God, I mean, you're so full of emotion. And like two days, I just cried and cried. And then I made my pros and cons list of, you know, why should I do this? Am I too old? And I finally decided that if I kept analyzing it, I was going to analyze my dream to death. So I just jumped in it.

NORRIS: Now we're talking about Dr. Sid Khosla, and Jan, as we listen to your voice, is what we're hearing a voice in progress? You still have months of therapy.

CHRISTIAN: Yeah, they said it would take about a year to get it where I don't have to - you know, where I can talk freely. At this point, I have to focus on my breathing and my sitting and, you know, how I hold my neck, my posture. So it takes a lot of focus to talk at this point.

CHRISTIAN: It's a learning process, getting the vocal chords that were basically either not there or not moving because of being buried in scar tissue. Now they're at the surface. So you basically have a child that vocal chords now are starting to vibrate.

NORRIS: Jan, in some ways do you feel like that in the way that when a child first discovers their voice?

CHRISTIAN: You know, he wants to speak, and he wants to express himself, but, you know, his disease doesn't allow him to do that. So I understand the frustration and the loneliness and the sadness that you get.

NORRIS: How did you two meet?

CHRISTIAN: Ran into each other in a hallway. No...


CHRISTIAN: We actually met out dancing.

NORRIS: Jan, did he ask you to dance?

CHRISTIAN: No, actually, I asked his best friend to dance. His best friend said: No, I don't like to dance. Go ask him.


CHRISTIAN: And that is true.

NORRIS: Really? How'd you fall in love? What - how did you know that this was the one?

CHRISTIAN: Well, let me tell you. Let me tell you.


CHRISTIAN: I came in one time into his condo, and his rabbit had died, and he was crying and upset about it. And that's when I knew that I loved him. And then the second time that really confirmed it is we went out on a date, and he kissed the back of my hand. And I'm going to marry that guy.

NORRIS: Randy, at that point, it sounds like she was a really good dancer.


NORRIS: But often, people fall in love over conversation. How did you two talk?

CHRISTIAN: And so I was drawn to her physically, but also it helped me pull in and actually focus on somebody else and listen to their needs, their wants, their desires, and I was just drawn into that.

NORRIS: Jan, I'm wondering if there was something in all those years that you were just dying to do, to say I love you really loud, to yell for your kids at a sporting event, to sing out loud at some sort of ceremony.

CHRISTIAN: And I think expressing my love with Randy is a lot of any tangible things. You know, I do more trying to show my love versus saying it. So I have, like, a different love language.

NORRIS: It has been so wonderful to talk to both of you. I have been speaking to Jan and Randy Christian. Jan Christian lost her voice after a car accident 35 years ago, and thanks to surgery, she is well on her way to getting it back. Thanks to both of you. All the best to you.

CHRISTIAN: Thank you.

CHRISTIAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.