A Minnesota girl finds her voice after years of surgery and therapy

Ellen Galles
Updated: February 23, 2021 06:51 PM
Created: February 23, 2021 05:28 PM

Five-year-old Zoey Ellis loves to sing.

"Random songs, ones I make up," she says.

The sound of her voice is sweet, especially since her parents wondered if they would ever hear it.

"Just listening to her laugh...the laughter!  For years it was so silent," said Amberlee Ellis, her mom.

Zoey was born with a condition called Congenital High Airway Obstruction Syndrome, meaning her voicebox had been fused shut her entire life.

She was unable to laugh, cry or even breathe on her own. She used sign language and a system of squeaks and clicks to communicate.

In February of 2019, a complicated airway reconstruction surgery changed that. Doctors removed and repaired Zoey's block by cutting her windpipe, and then widened it by using small pieces of her rib cartilage as a graft.

Dr. Robert Tibesar with Children's Minnesota says the past two years Zoey has undergone everything from swallow therapy to speech therapy.  Next month he will remove her feeding tube, which is the final stage of her recovery.

"It's amazing to have that last thing removed," Tibesar said. "That frees her up from any other medical interventions."

"I still cry on a weekly basis, if not a daily basis, just watching her bloom and grow," Amberlee said. 

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