GREENVILLE, N.C. — For a severe stutterer, life can be embarrassing, lonely and painful. But thanks to the work of three scientists at East Carolina University, life for millions of stutterers could quickly change for the better.
Lucas Smith sounds like most any 13-year-old as he reads, but that was not always the case. Smith has had a stuttering problem since he began to speak. However, six months ago, his life changed dramatically.
After years of speech therapy, he went to the speech and hearing clinic at East Carolina University. A team of speech pathologists has worked for years to find a solution for stutterers.
They came up with a device called the
. The little plastic device holds a battery, transmitter, microphone and speaker. It is worn like a hearing aid.
When a person talks, researchers say an electronic signal from the SpeechEasy is sent to the brain. There is a slight delay in the transmission and the pitch of the voice is altered, which allows stutterers to better relay information.
Dr. Joseph Kalinowski, who also has a stuttering problem, spent years in speech therapy, and he said nothing worked. Then, he said he made an interesting discovery.
"The only time I could speak naturally fluent was when I was in church praying in unison," Kalinowski said. "But if I go up to receive communion, I can't say amen."
Stutterers often refer to speaking in unison as choral speech, like everyone reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or the Lord's Prayer.
Kalinowski said he knew there had to be a way to change that, and his determination paid off.
"The time I put it in, it was just a miracle -- a miracle, a miracle," he said. "I thought it was going to help, but I had no idea, no idea of that feeling of freedom."
That freedom has changed the landscape of Smith's teenage world. Between bookbags and banter, he can be himself with confidence. Jan Smith, Lucas' mother, has watched his transformation right before her eyes.
"I don't worry about him nearly as much," she said. "This device was the answer to a lot of prayers."
Anyone who is interested in the SpeechEasy must be tested at a clinic authorized by Janus Development Group.
The device costs about $4,300 and currently is not covered by insurance. East Carolina University holds the patent.