To view this page ensure that Adobe Flash Player version 11.1.0 or greater is installed.

To Heal the Human Instrument By Joan Voight • Illustration by Traci Daberko • Photography by Ann Johansson When words fail, a unique and highly specialized center at UCLA is there to help patients find their voice. W hen Erik Laurence transferred to Shanghai, China, in 2009, as vice president of a software company, he thought his biggest challenge would be improving his Mandarin-language skills and learning the nuances of the Chinese business scene. But his vocal cords, not the foreign nation, turned out to be his undoing. Laurence, who was in his mid-40s at the time, had struggled for about 20 years with a mild case of spasmodic dysphonia (SD), intermittently losing his voice at odd times. SD is a neurological disorder that involves spasms of the vocal cords, which causes the voice to break up or have a strained or strangled quality. “Building a career in marketing involved winning over new people, conference presentations and constant talking,” he 18 U MAGAZINE says. “My job had evolved to where I spent entire days on conference calls — with a voice I couldn’t count on to work.” He says the feeling of SD is “like you are running along and suddenly you trip, and you didn’t see it coming. Your voice is fine, then suddenly it stops working in the middle of a sentence.” Speaking was even more difficult when he played sports and his heart rate went up. “It was like my brain was over-firing, causing the signals to the nerves to be too strong and making my vocal cords slam together, not allowing them to vibrate,” Laurence remembers. “At social events, I wouldn’t speak much, even though I had lots to say. Sometimes I’d get a sense of what words would work out for me, so I would say only what I could say.”