Born with a cleft palate, Samantha Elandary ('91, '92 M.A.) received speech therapy during elementary and secondary school. Wanting to be an English teacher, she studied English at UNT and added speech and hearing sciences classes because of her own childhood experience.
She earned bachelor's degrees in both fields and a master's in speech-language pathology, choosing to follow that career and serve patients with Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders.
"One of the mindsets from years ago is that because Parkinson's is a progressive disease, speech therapy won't help these patients," she says. "But that is not true. They can get better."
Elandary founded the Parkinson Voice Project, a nonprofit in Richardson, in 2005 to provide every person living with Parkinson's with the opportunity to receive treatment without the worry of not having insurance or of having other financial limitations. The clinic does not bill Medicare or insurance companies. Its services are paid for by grateful patients and community supporters, who "pay it forward" in donations to help future patients. Parkinson Voice Project also specializes in training speech-language pathologists from around the country to work with speech deficits associated with Parkinson's disease.
Elandary says up to 89 percent of Parkinson's patients may develop swallowing disorders as the disease progresses, and swallowing problems can also develop because the muscles used for speaking are also used for swallowing.
She and her staff developed a therapy in which patients focus on speaking with intent, improving the volume, articulation and quality of the voice. Elandary says it leads to dramatic changes.
"Normally, patients have soft, hoarse and weak voices and must repeat themselves, or their spouses speak for them," she says. "But within one or two weeks of starting therapy and strengthening those muscles, patients become more animated and easily heard."
Elandary and her staff of speech-language pathologists regularly conduct workshops in their clinic. They have trained more than 200 professionals in 28 states and Elandary also is developing an online workshop.
"My speech pathology classes gave me a fabulous foundation in ethics, patient care and confidentiality," she says. "I'm honored to help Parkinson's patients with their speaking skills."