The gift of speech

December 26, 2012

Five-year-old Ben had been referred to Providence Rehabilitation Services by his doctor for severe speech problems. While no obvious reasons could be found, Ben had trouble speaking since he was a baby. His nasal speech was difficult to understand, and difficult for him to produce – often having to plug his nose to make his words more understandable to those around him. He had seen many doctors and specialists at three separate hospitals in his short life, to no avail.

Enter Keri Vilks, MS CCC-SLP, a speech-language pathologist at Providence Medford Medical Center. She sensed something was wrong with Ben’s palate that could be part of a larger issue. She noticed small indicators that led her to believe Ben could have DiGeorge syndrome, also known as “22q11.2 deletion syndrome.”

DiGeorge syndrome is a disorder caused by a defect in chromosome 22 that results in poor development of several body systems. If a person has DiGeorge, one copy of chromosome 22 is missing a segment that includes an estimated 30 to 40 genes. Signs can include delayed speech development, a gap in the roof of the mouth (cleft palate) or other palate problems, and particular facial features including low-set ears, wide-set eyes or a narrow groove in the upper lip.

Vilks had not had firsthand experience with DiGeorge syndrome, but had learned about it in her training. She referred Ben for genetic screening and her suspicion was confirmed. Finally there was a diagnosis, and a treatment. Recently, Ben underwent palate surgery at Dornbecher Children’s hospital and has returned to speech therapy with Vilks where he is making great progress.

Ben’s family is forever grateful to Keri, posting on their Facebook page: “We applaud you Keri for what you have done, you don’t think it was much…but we believe you saved our son’s life and gave us a map of what we were looking at finally!"

Read the full article in the Mail Tribune.