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Play-by-play radio announcer for the Chicago Cubs since 1996, there was a time when Pat Hughes thought his livelihood was in peril due to a precancerous lesion on one of his vocal cords. Known as dysplasia, the cause of the condition is often unknown but if left untreated it can turn cancerous.
But today, Hughes’ velvety baritone has never sounded better and for that he credits the talent and expertise of Laryngologist Aaron Friedman, MD, Director of NorthShore’s Voice Center. After three delicate surgeries by Dr. Friedman—the last in February 2016—Hughes proudly declared his vocal cords are “clean as a whistle!”
“When you’re a broadcaster and have surgery on your vocal cords, it’s an extremely anxious feeling,” recalled the 62-year-old Hughes of Lincolnshire. “You wonder whether you’ll ever announce again. I feel like I’ve got a lot left to give. I didn’t want my career to end.”
Although a tired, raspy voice can be an occupational hazard for a radio announcer, Hughes’ symptoms persisted long after the 2014 Cubs season ended. That is when he sought help from Dr. Friedman, who described the lesion as being located in the worst possible spot: the crucial vibratory edge of Hughes’ vocal cord.
“The vocal cords are only half an inch to an inch long but their health is crucial for the voice,” explained Dr. Friedman, who holds an academic appointment at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. “The vocal cord is wrapped in a lining much like plastic wrap. In Pat’s dysplasia, that lining became thick like shoe leather, and what’s underneath it wasn’t able to vibrate as it should.”
In the Zone: Laser-Focused Care The NorthShore Voice Center provides state-of-the-art diagnostics and treatments that range from medical and surgical interventions to specialized voice therapy for a variety of issues.
Dr. Friedman is one of a small group of expert surgeons nationwide renowned for treating early-stage vocal cord cancer using the innovative KTP laser, which also is used to treat precancerous and some benign lesions. The benefit of the laser, as opposed to traditional surgery and radiation, is that it uses a precise wavelength of light to target and destroy the blood supply that feeds cancerous and pre-cancer tumors while preserving healthy tissue. This innovative treatment was critical in saving Hughes’ voice.
“You have to understand the sensitivity and precision that’s required for surgery like this,” Hughes noted. “The surgeon has to know exactly what he’s doing and not harm any of the good stuff.”
Batting a Thousand While vocal cord dysplasia can be a recurring disease, there is no sign of a returning clinical curve ball since Hughes’ last surgery. He has since called more than 300 ballgames, which translates into three hours per game of continuous talking—including the historical moment when he became the first Cubs announcer in history to bellow: “The Chicago Cubs win the World Series!”
With the 2018 season now in full swing, fans of all generations are once again tuning in to Hughes’ familiar soundtrack of Chicago summers.
“As Pat’s physician, it’s so rewarding for me to both have a positive impact on him and indirectly on the millions of Cubs fans who continue to hear his voice,” added Dr. Friedman.