My name is Ken McDonald and I am an Evangelist. I was born November 17, 1958 and grew up in the mountains of Northern California. I have always enjoyed singing as I do play guitar, but in my early years I did not speak that much. As far as abnormal use of my voice there was none.
It was upon my being called to preach that I began to demand more of my voice. In 1979 I entered Bible School and started preaching forcefully, as well as preaching on the street. Preaching on the street is very strenuous on the voice, and while I knew some who preached often and had little or no side effects with their voice, it was not that way for me. Yet, with some rest my voice would always come back.
In 1984, after graduating from Bible School, I entered the pastorate and preached four times a week. These sermons were loud and forceful, yet I had no trouble with my voice. This lasted for thirteen years off and on.
It was not until I entered the field of evangelism that I began to notice that my voice was not holding up to the rigors of preaching six days a week, on average, and then traveling on the seventh day. It would become hoarse and weak. I entered evangelism in 1995, and at first there were gaps in my schedule so there was time for my voice to rest and regain its vitality.
Also upon entering the field of Evangelism, I was very intimidated by the call and would preach with all the strength I could trying to make each message the best I could. This put tremendous abuse and strain on my voice. As I entered my 40's my voice was beginning to give out.
I began to ask other preachers what they did for their voice, and so I started with all the so called cures. These cures, or helps, ranged from aloe vera juice and water while I was preaching, to Sen Sen, to tea and honey, to lemon juice and cyanne pepper. That last one was horrible!
For the most part I found that luke warm water helped the most, and as my voice weakened water became my only help. I would have to drink a minimum of 1/2 gallon within one hour prior to preaching just to make it through a sermon. Of course a bathroom had to be close before I stepped into the pulpit and after. Each sermon would last about 45 minutes. If I drank anything with caffeine in it that day my voice would be horrible that evening.
As my voice grew worse I got so that I would enter the church just before having to preach, and would leave right after without talking to anyone, as I was not able to. More and more I began to avoid people and having to talk. When I was around people I would have my wife talk for me as much as possible. She generally knew what I was trying to say. The telephone was avoided for the slight extra volume generally used when talking on the phone put me into a state where my voice would not work.
Trying to help my wife would say to me, "If you'll just relax your voice does better." She meant well, but she had no idea what it was like to try to relax, until someone one on the other end replied, "What was that? I didn't understand you." And then you try to speak again only to have your voice get worse, the listener confused, and yourself beyond frustration, having become discouraged with even trying to communicate with the voice.
Seeking help I went to an ENT doctor in Southern California. After "scoping" me to view my vocal chords I was given the diagnosis of Pharyngitis. The prescription was three months of silence. I was not to talk above a whisper for three months. Attempting to do my best I actually went four months. Then upon my first sermon, after not talking for four months, within the first five minutes I realized that it had not helped at all. My voice was no different than it had been four months earlier. Fear now gripped me and though I was in the middle of a sermon, thoughts raced through my mind of uncertainty and confusion. What am I going to do? Where can I go for help? How long will it be before I can no longer preach, or even talk?
Not having any answer to these questions, all I knew of to do was to continue on. and so I did, and so my voice continued to decline to a state of weakness and hoarseness which moved me to silence as much as possible. Even creating in me a frustrated anger when ever had I had to talk. I was consigned to live a secluded life. A life where verbal communication would be kept to the utmost minimum.
After loosing all in a fire, I acquired some money from the insurance settlement. I began to research a place to go to for help. I decided to go to the University of Pittsburgh Medical center and see a Dr. Clark Rosen. I made the appointment and went. After two days of tests, a diagnosis was given me of Spasmodic Dysphonia, Abductor type. The prescription was Botox injections approximately every four to six months depending on need.
The treatment was described to me as my nerves were abnormally pulling my vocal chords apart, so as to cause them to abduct, or separate. The Botox would deaden these nerves so as to cause the vocal chords to relax and properly meet and vibrate as they should. In the mean time the nerves would grow another ending and the abducting would come back thus needing to come back and receive more injections of Botox on the new nerve ends. This would be needed for the rest of my life.
Though my voice was bad, and I was in great need of help, I did not want to proceed with this treatment. To me it seemed like a band aid. I am sure Dr. Rosen has helped many people and I am in no way impugning him or his practice. I just did not want to proceed with this, or at least until I absolutely had no other choice.
A few months later I talked to a man who heard me preach and knew I was in trouble. He also had gone to Alma Vajas for voice help and told me about her. At this point I was very closed minded to any supposed helps. But when he told me that she had helped men who worked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange I perked up my ears.
These were men who yelled often and hard. I thought to myself, "If she can help them, then maybe she can help me."
He called for me and told her that I would be calling soon to make an appointment with her. I called the next day and what impressed me was Alma's confidence that she could help me, and that I would be fine. This astounded me as no one else had ever been that confident. I made and appointment and went to her for two lessons. She had me lightly hum outward as she would play one note one her piano, and then the next higher note etc., and worked with me for an hour. After those two lessons my voice was much better, and I was amazed.
I departed for my next series of meetings and was much excited about the progress with my voice. But after a few months my voice continued to decline. Then in May of 2005 what I had feared, and yet was waiting for happened. A lady came up to me after the Sunday morning service and said, "Bro. McDonald, I can't understand you." It's no wonder for I myself felt like a barking dog, just to get sound to come out. But after she said this I knew I was done.
Upon canceling all of my meetings for three months, in June of 2005, I started voice rehab with Alma Vajas. Twice a week for one hour I would go to her. For me it was a hour for near torture. Calmly she would tell me to hum as she played a note. I would hum, and then choke and cough. At times the choking was so hard I would see stars and nearly pass out. Beads of sweat would build on my forehead, and my shirt would be wet by the end of each session.
The worst was when she started me intoning, or humming in. I would brace myself, and with all the strength I could find I would hum inward when she played the note. Cough, choke, and sigh, over and over for each note, as she would try to "wake up my ligament." My wife would drive the hour it took to get home, and then I would work my voice on my own at home.
On my way to voice lessons I could not even ask for a toll receipt so I would look to my wife and she would speak up from the passenger side and ask, "May we get a receipt, please?" Week after week I would make the trek to Alma. Sometimes tears would come to my eyes as I walked into her living room due to the fear that I would ever get my voice back.
Three months passed, and then three more. During those first three, Alma had told me that my voice may get worse before it gets better, and so it did. But I started to think that she was going to ruin my voice, or make it even worse, but I had no where else to go, so I kept on. After six months there was a slight improvement which excited me greatly.
New exercises were added, and I would go home and work my voice each day. After a year I asked Alma if I could get out and preach. My voice was better, and I was chomping a the bit to get preaching. She would not tell me yes or no, but said it was my decision to make. I decided to give it a try, and so embarked on a preaching trip to Minnesota, and then on to Arizona. After two months out, my voice collapsed while in Arizona. My heart was broken, but I knew what I had to do. I cancelled the rest of my meetings and headed back to Alma Vajas.
I preached a little over the next two years, but for the most part I decided to stay in therapy with Alma as long as I needed. Month after month I would go to her, but now I could ask for the toll receipt on my own. As a matter of fact I could do a lot of things that two years earlier were out of the question. I could now sing hymns at church, I could talk on the phone, and I did not fear a crowd anymore. My voice was getting better.
After three years of lessons, in August 2008, I headed back out to preach and my voice did very well. In Alma's words, "It held!" Even though I was inconsistent on working it faithfully, yet it did very well. Often people would comment to me that they could not believe how well my voice sounded. This is always a great encouragement to me.
In March of 2009 I returned to Alma for some more work and strengthening. For six weeks I did more therapy and she again greatly helped me. The lower end of my voice has begun to strengthen. It has been frustrating because the part of my voice that I use, and need most, is the last part to "come in." Be that as it is, it is a joy to have a voice now. I know there is more work to be done, as it is not 100% yet, but it is very useable now. When I began voice rehab, Alma said that my voice was 80% collapsed. Today my voice is well over 80% whole. What is best with it all is that the problem has been reversed or healed. It is not a band aid that has been applied, but a reversal of the problem, or should I say a correcting of what was wrong.
No, it is not a quick fix, and in this instant society people will be impatient with such a cure as this, but it does work and I am proof of that. When I went to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center they told me that therapy would not work, and that my problem was not due to my preaching. They told me to go ahead and preach for I was not hurting my voice. With all due respect I must say that they were 180 degrees off. I have no doubt that what they told me was the exact opposite of what the truth was.
I am not saying don't go to doctors, but for me Alma Vajas using Vocal Behavior Training on me has corrected my voice troubles. If I continue to practice the exercises Alma Vajas has taught me my voice should become stronger and better than it ever has in my life. This is very exciting.
I thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for Alma Vajas, and for her help with me in getting my voice back.
In His service, Evangelist Ken McDonald