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11-year-old runner felt like she was breathing through a straw

by Kate Snider

Last summer, Kaysey participated with Girls on the Run, but found it hard to keep breathing during her workout. As she was running, her throat felt like it was closing up.

“It felt like I was breathing through a straw,” explained 11-year-old Kaysey Sterk. “I thought maybe it was asthma. I didn’t know if it [my throat] would ever open back up again.”

Her breathing got so bad she would have to stop running.

“I would walk,” said Kaysey. “If it was really bad, I would sit on the ground and just try to catch my breath.”

Luckily, her mom was her coach and saw this happening. After it happened 5 or 6 times, Kaysey’s mom took her to their doctor. The doctor diagnosed Kaysey with vocal cord dysfunction and referred her to Mary Free Bed’s Voice Program.

Kaysey wasn’t scared about her vocal cord dysfunction or about being sent to Mary Free Bed, but she remarked, “I had no idea if it was serious. My doctor said it wouldn’t kill me.”

At Mary Free Bed she ran on a treadmill and her speech-language therapist asked her to explain what was happening in her throat as she ran. At first nothing happened. Then, after returning to Mary Free Bed a few times, her throat started closing up again, this time while she was running on the treadmill.

As soon as her throat started closing up, the voice specialists at Mary Free Bed put a scope down her throat. The scope recorded what was happening, and they showed Kaysey and her mom what her vocal cords were doing.

“Vocal cords are really small, and look like beaver teeth,” joked Kaysey, “I thought it was pretty cool because I had no idea what they looked like.”

The staff at Mary Free Bed taught her ways to open her throat up and coached her through the whole process. At Mary Free Bed, they kept asking her to run longer distances until she experienced her throat closing. Eventually, Kaysey worked through her throat closing to run 3.2 miles!

She still uses tricks learned at Mary Free Bed to open her throat, like making the “sh” sound and breathing in through her nose and out through mouth. She also learned not to panic when she felt her throat closing.

Kaysey said, “After running the 3.2 miles, it felt like a really big accomplishment!”

Things to know about voice and vocal cord disorders:

– Voice disorders can be brought on by stroke, aging, neurological conditions and overusing or misusing your voice, among other causes.

– Often, rest, relaxation, and breathing techniques take care of a lot of voice and vocal cord problems.

– Some vocal cord disorders don’t affect the voice, but do affect how you breathe.


Kim Sterk

Mary Free Bed gave my daughter the confidence to run again! I thank them for helping her learn ways to open her throat back up again and breathe through her attacks. I would recommend Mary Free bed to anyone who experiences Vocal Cord Dysfunction!

Josie Rice

Kaysey is a strong warrior fighting through this battle. Right now, she is sitting next to me alive and well. Someday she hopes to get a tattoo of this torture that she went through as a young child. Keep fighting Kaysey!

Hannah Hofman

Kaysey sterk is a true inspiration to me tand many others. She teaches me all the tricks to keep my throat open an its very cool having a friend teach my about my throat. She is such a steong young lady and im so glad it wasnt life threatning. I love you kaysey, keep staying strong!


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