In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

July 29, 2014

Instrumental in making music

By In the Loop

OboeSurgery760The oboe is an instrument with a clear and penetrating sound that sometimes rises above the rest. The same could be said of Mara Reed, a young musician whose passion for the oboe and determination to continue to play it brought her to the surgical suite of pediatric otolaryngologist, Shelagh Cofer, M.D., for a very important concert with a small, yet very critical (and critically important) audience.

Mara, an All-State musician had suffered frequent throat and sinus infections for many years, and when antibiotics were no longer effective in battling the infections, she had her tonsils and adenoids removed.  Unfortunately, that affected her ability to play her beloved oboe. According to a story on Mayo Clinic News Network, removing the adenoids can create a gap where air can escape. As such, Mara could no longer create the air pressure needed to play the oboe. It’s a condition that’s called velopharyngeal insufficiency, which, as Dr. Cofer explains, is “just a fancy word that means some air was escaping out the back of her throat and up and out through her nose when she was playing the instrument.”

When her high school band director suggested that she consider another instrument, Mara would have none of that, according to a story on Fox 9 News. She needed a solution and turned to Dr. Cofer. The surprising answer was a surgery where Dr. Cofer would inject cosmetic filler that would plump up the soft tissue and close the gap.

For the procedure to work, Dr. Cofer told Fox 9 that Mara would have to “deliver the most pressure-filled performance” by playing the oboe during the surgery, so she could find the spot that had “been messing with her music.” That meant Mara would need to be awake and sedated only enough to allow a scope with a camera to be inserted through her nose so the surgical team could see the problem area.

“As I got the first injection (of the filler), it was a little easier to get out the high notes,” Mara told the television station. After 45 minutes, all the gaps were found and filled. Since the surgery, Mara has graduated from high school and has been offered several music scholarships. She plans to continue to play her beloved oboe for many years to come.

You'll find the Mayo Clinic News Network video below. Then, it would be music to our ears if you'd share your comments below. While you’re here, don’t be afraid to share this story with others using the handy social media sharing tools.

Tags: Dr. Shelagh Cofer, Otolaryngology, Patient Stories, Pediatric Otolaryngology

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