Philecta Staton's deteriorating larynx caused her to cough constantly and made talking difficult.
Staton was referred several months ago to Rockingham Memorial Hospital's new voice and swallowing services program, a joint venture between the Harrisonburg hospital and James Madison University.
Today, Staton is feeling much better.
"I've learned exercises and techniques. And I use shorter sentences,'' she said.
On Friday, RMH and JMU celebrated the official opening of the new voice and swallowing services clinic. Patients like Staton, or those who have voice and swallowing difficulties as a result of a stroke, head and neck cancer or Parkinson's Disease, can now be treated in the hospital in a dedicated clinic.
Jim Krauss, the president of RMH, said the voice and swallowing services now offered by RMH are unique to the Shenandoah Valley and western Virginia. Previously, he said patients would have been referred to Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore or to Washington, D.C.
Krauss said the collaboration between JMU and RMH has also included assuring the preservation of wetlands on the site of the new RMH, which opened three years ago.
"We modified the design of the campus to protect the (Chesapeake Bay) watershed,'' he said.
While RMH provides the clinical space and billing of patients for the voice and swallowing services program, the treatment and research comes from JMU staff.
Christy Ludlow, a professor in the communications sciences and disorders department at JMU and a former National Institutes of Health staff member, works in the clinic 6 to 8 hours a week. Ludlow provides treatment of patients and also offers them devices they can take home to help with their voice and swallowing issues.
As part of the partnership, Ludlow and other JMU staff will use the clinical setting to do new research on voice and swallowing issues.
Jonathan Alger, the president of JMU, said the collaboration between the hospital and university "is one of the pillars for us to become a nationally engaged university."
Alger said by the two institutions' working together they "will have a greater impact on the community."
Alger has a personal connection to the new program. He said his 99-year-old grandfather recently died after struggling with voice and swallowing problems for 12 years.
"Voice and swallowing issues mean a lot to me,'' the JMU president said.
Sixth District Rep. Bob Goodlatte, who participated in the clinic ribbon cutting and also spoke Friday, said the latest joint effort between JMU and RMH will become "an important part of healthcare in the region."