For the first time in nearly a year, Google (GOOG) Chief Executive Officer Larry Page is publicly addressing a question about his personal health: why he lost his voice and continues to speak more hoarsely than is normal.
In a post to his page on the social network Google+, Page recounts his 14-year history with vocal cord nerve strain and says that he is slowly recovering and able to “do all I need to do at home and at work, though my voice is softer than before.” Page also writes that he is making a personal donation to fund a “significant research program” into vocal cord nerve function at the Voice Health Institute, based in Boston.
The revelations come almost a year after Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt told investors that Page would miss several company events, including annual meetings for shareholders and developers, because of his voice condition. Doctors have ruled out cancer (which can in rare instances develop in patients with Page’s type of thyroid disorder) as a cause for Page’s vocal condition, according to people at Google familiar with his treatment. (They asked not to be named because the details aren’t public.) One of them says Page uses a microphone, even for small staff meetings of a dozen people.
The Google CEO’s hoarse voice emerged as a serious problem after he came down with a cold last summer. In his post, Page writes that the cold limited the movement of one of his vocal cords; the other cord had been similarly paralyzed when he caught a cold 14 years ago. Page adds that his ability to exercise strenuously has also been “somewhat reduced” because vocal cord nerve issues can affect breathing. “That said, my friends still think I have way more stamina than them when we go kitesurfing,” he writes. “And Sergey says I’m probably a better CEO because I choose my words more carefully. So surprisingly, overall I am feeling very lucky.”
Page says doctors still do not know the exact reason for the lasting damage to his voice, though in his post he discloses that he also has Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, a rare autoimmune disorder that causes chronic inflammation in the thyroid. “It is possible that has something to do with it, or that it is just virus related, or some other unknown cause,” Page writes.
Hashimoto’s, which typically affects middle-aged women, can be treated with hormone-replacement pills such as Abbott Laboratories’ (ABT) Synthroid. Very rarely, thyroid cancer may develop, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Vocal cord paralysis occurs when one or both of the elastic bands of muscle tissue in the voice box fail to open or close properly. Vocal cords normally function by opening when somebody breathes, closing when they swallow, and vibrating to enable speech. The condition can be caused by an injury to the head, neck, or chest; by lung or thyroid cancer; or by a viral infection. It can alter the sound of a person’s voice, causing hoarseness, and also lead to difficulties breathing and swallowing.
Page is not revealing the size of his donation to the Voice Health Institute, but a person familiar with the donation says it exceeds $20 million. The project he is funding will be led by famed surgeon Steven Zeitels, from the Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital Voice Center, who operated on the vocal cords of singer Adele.
Here’s Page’s post in its entirety:
About 14 years ago, I got a bad cold, and my voice became hoarse. At the time I didn’t think much about it. But my voice never fully recovered. So I went to a doctor and was diagnosed with left vocal cord paralysis. This is a nerve problem that causes your left vocal cord to not move properly. Despite extensive examination, the doctors never identified a cause—though there was speculation of virus-based damage from my cold. It is quite common in cases like these that a definitive cause is not found.
While this condition never really affected me—other than having a slightly weaker voice than normal which some people think sounded a little funny—it naturally raised questions in my mind about my second vocal cord. But I was told that sequential paralysis of one vocal cord following another is extremely rare.
Fast forward to last summer, when the same pattern repeated itself—a cold followed by a hoarse voice. Once again things didn’t fully improve, so I went in for a check-up and was told that my second vocal cord now had limited movement as well. Again, after a thorough examination, the doctors weren’t able to identify a cause.
Thankfully, after some initial recovery I’m fully able to do all I need to at home and at work, though my voice is softer than before. And giving long monologues is more tedious for me and probably the audience. But overall over the last year there has been some improvement with people telling me they think I sound better. Vocal cord nerve issues can also affect your breathing, so my ability to exercise at peak aerobic capacity is somewhat reduced. That said, my friends still think I have way more stamina than them when we go kitesurfing! And Sergey says I’m probably a better CEO because I choose my words more carefully. So surprisingly, overall I am feeling very lucky.
Interestingly, while the nerves for your vocal cords take quite different routes through your body, they both pass your thyroid. So in searching for a cause for both nerves that was an obvious place to look. I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in 2003. This is a fairly common benign inflammatory condition of the thyroid which causes me no problems. It is unclear if this is a factor in the vocal cord condition, or whether both conditions were triggered by a virus.
In this journey I have learned a lot more about voice issues. Though my condition seems to be very rare, there are a significant number of people who develop issues with one vocal nerve. In seeing different specialists, I met one doctor—Dr. Steven Zeitels from the Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts General Hospital Voice Center—who is really excited about the potential to improve vocal cord nerve function. So I’ve arranged to fund a significant research program through the Voice Health Institute, which he will lead. Thanks a bunch to my amazing wife Lucy, for her companionship through this journey and for helping oversee this project and get it off the ground. Also, thanks to the many people who have helped with advice and information many of whom I have not had a chance to thank yet.
Finally, we’ve put together a patient survey to gather information about other people with similar conditions. As it’s fairly rare, there’s little data available today—and the team hopes that with more information they can make faster progress. If you have similar symptoms you can fill it out here: voicehealth.org/ip