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24 September 2014

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Heidi King is fitted with SpeechEasy device
Heidi King fitted with SpeechEasy device

Inside Out: Pioneering treatment helps Norfolk stammerer

Heidi King has lived with a severe stammer all her life, but a radical new treatment developed in America called SpeechEasy has delivered incredible results, totally changing the way she communicates.

Heidi King is the life and soul of any party. She loves to socialise and is a keen tango dancer - but when Heidi opens her mouth to speak, her voice instantly commands the attention of everyone in the room.

Most of us take talking for granted, but a few simple sentences can take severe stammerer Heidi an age to get out. It's painful to listen to and exhausting for her.

She's no victim though and she doesn't want pity. In fact the only time her smile fades is if you try to finish off her sentences.

Heidi began stammering around the age of three. She's had all the therapies, but none really worked.

But she hasn't let it hold her back - her outgoing personality is testament to that - so too is a first class honours degree in psychology from the University of Kent.

Pioneering treatment

Despite not seeing her severe stammer as an impediment, Heidi has volunteered for some pioneering treatment in America. She's one of the first Britons to try it.

video Watch: Heidi King tries new stammering treatment >
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It's not available on the NHS so it'll cost over £5,000, and there are no guarantees it will even work.

"I suppose deep down I would love a cure or something which helps my stammer," she said.


The device she's having fitted is an electronic implant called SpeechEasy - it looks like an advanced hearing aid.

Like most stammers, Heidi can sing in unison without stuttering. The implant mimics that 'choral effect' by sending out an echo of Heidi's voice.

It tricks her brain into thinking she's talking along with someone else and unblocks the impediment.

The device was developed by a stutterer in America.

New York speech pathologist John Haskell is one of those trained to fit it. At his Madison Avenue office, Heidi received the life changing transformation.

Heidi King with her dad in New York
Heidi King with her dad in New York

The moment the SpeechEasy device is activated, more than 20 years of stammering virtually disappear.

For an hour, Heidi talks fluently.

The emotional release is too much for Heidi. She can't believe the transformation. All the years of struggling to talk have gone.

"I don't feel like Heidi because I am not stammering," she said.

"It is almost as if I am detached. That it's a strange person speaking, it isn't me. I feel as I am on a drug because it is making me so relaxed.

"I'm listening to a little man in my ear. I am just not struggling as much. It is just so strange to speak without stammering," she added.

The device may have produced a remarkable improvement in Heidi's speech, but the SpeechEasy isn't going to be a total cure.

"Heidi is starting to hear herself differently. She heard her voice with a slight delay and with a higher pitch speaking with her," said speech pathologist John Haskell.

"She will have to expect moments of stuttering or blocks, but she is going to learn to deal with it. People around her will have to expect that she is not going to be 100 per cent," he added.

Emotional blocks

There are emotional adjustments to make too and Heidi admits she's scared of using it.

"Before when I spoke, I am used to instant silence. It will change the way I communicate. It is almost like I have lost my control," she said.

"I am trying to listen to the little man in my ear. It is quite hard. I go through life and I don't ever have to think about my speech. Now I am having to concentrate.

"It has been a long journey.

Inside Out logo

"I'm still on that journey. It seems too much now. Too scary to look at what I can do with it. It's still me whether I stammer or not"

Heidi King's story is screened on Monday, 11 September, 2006 at 1930BST on BBC1 in the East or nationwide for satellite viewers on D-Sat 951.

The programme also includes a look at the future of the Eastern Counties' lidos and presenter David Whitely is challenged to beat a record holding eating machine, aka granddad Peter Dowdeswell.

video Watch: Heidi King tries new stammering treatment >
Audio and Video links on this page require Realplayer
last updated: 11/09/06
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