Gay SMU music instructor to compete in IRONMAN triathalon to raise donations for program helping Parkinson’s patients regain speech
When Matthew Kline tries to swim, bike and run a total of 140 miles on Sunday, June 24, he’ll have plenty of inspiration.
“If I can have some of the faces of people I’m working with in mind, knowing that stopping is not an option, I think that will provide me some strength,” Kline says. “It’s just a psychological tool that I use to keep myself motivated. I know that they’re counting on me to do this.”
Kline, 35, an openly gay music instructor at Southern Methodist University, is referring to Parkinson patients at the Richardson-based Texas Voice Project.
The Voice Project is a one-of-a-kind nonprofit that treats people with Parkinson’s disease who’ve lost their voices, a common symptom of the neurodegenerative condition that afflicts more than 1.5 million Americans.
Kline, who became music director at the Voice Project last year, helps Parkinson’s patients maintain their voices by singing once they’ve regained them with the help of speech pathologists. And he is using his participation in the Coeur d’Alene, Idaho IRONMAN which will consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a 26.2 mile run to raise money for the cause.
Samantha Elandary, director of the Texas Voice Project, said Kline’s gesture is much appreciated. The Voice Project serves people free of charge and relies heavily on donations because programs like Medicare reimburse at a rate of only 40 percent.
Some 89 percent of Parkinson’s patients develop extreme difficulty speaking, creating an inability to be heard or understood, according to the Voice Project.
Elandary said Parkinson’s damages the portion of the brain known as the auditory cortex, which regulates how loud people speak. Parkinson’s patients begin to think they’re speaking louder than they really are.
“The patient is getting the wrong feedback, so they start to talk in a soft, mumbly voice,” Elandary said.
This, in turn, leads to the weakening of muscles involved with the voice, including the vocal chords and lungs.
The project uses what’s known as the Lee Silverman Voice Treatment method, which has proven effective in nine of 10 Parkinson’s patients. First, patients are taught to concentrate on using a louder voice. Then, they strengthen their muscles by yelling at high decibels.
“The patient learns that the voice they think is loud is actually normal to everyone else,” she said. “As they get stronger, they don’t have to work as hard.”
Although the Silverman method is not new, the Texas Voice Project is the first to augment it with a maintenance program, called the LOUD Crowd, Elandary said.
The LOUD crowd includes monthly group speech therapy sessions, six-month re-evaluations, speech contests and the singing program run by Kline.
In 2006, the Texas Voice Project became a three-year pilot program of the National Parkinson Foundation. If the program is successful, it will be expanded nationwide.
“You can get Lee Silverman at other places, but they don’t have follow-up,” Elandary said.
The singing program recently was expanded due to popular demand, she said, and a lot of that has to do with Kline.
“He’s incredible,” Elandary said. “He’s just full of energy. He makes them happy.”
The Voice Project is planning a party for patients during which they can track Kline’s progress on the Internet during the last few hours of the IRONMAN competition, she said.
“They’re actually amazed. It’s incredible what he’s doing,” she said. “They’re amazed by it and grateful to him, too.”
Kline said he’s completed the far shorter triathlon before, but this will be his first IRONMAN. Triathlons are just 32 miles, consisting of a 0.9-mile swim, a 25-mile bike race and a 10K run.
“I’m not worried about finishing as long as I can keep my mind in the right place and keep focusing on what I’m doing,” Kline said. “This is the hard part, getting to the actual IRONMAN. Between now and the day of the IRONMAN itself is the hard part because of the anticipation.
“It’s just that nervous excitement that builds up as you approach your ultimate goal,” he explained.
Kline, who lives in East Dallas, said he plans to participate in the IRONMAN alongside his partner, 40-year-old Richard Stanley.
Since entering the IRONMAN on a dare with a friend, the two have undergone a grueling training schedule in recent months with a personal fitness coach.
Kline said the thought of patients at the Voice Project has already helped him get through some of the tougher training sessions, and he hopes to channel their positive energy further in the actual competition.
“It’s really helpful and motivating to know there are people cheering me on,” he said. “Even though they won’t be present in Coeur D’Alene, Idaho, I’ll know that they’re there with me in spirit.”
To pledge money to Matthew Kline’s participation in the IRONMAN, mail a check to Texas Voice Project for Parkinson Disease Inc.; 2035 Promenade Center; Richardson, TX 75080.
For more information, call 214-862-0101 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, June 22, 2007.