14. Steven Zeitels

Director of MGH's Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation, How To Save Adele And Improve Medicine

Steven Zeitels is as close to a rock star as a laryngologist gets: He's a prolific researcher who has become the go-to voice doctor for 400-plus entertainers, including Adele, James Taylor, and Steven Tyler. Zeitels recalls that when he was a doctoral resident, one of his teachers said, "You're not one of the brightest residents." Thirty seconds passed, then the teacher continued, "But you may be the most creative one we've ever had.'" Zeitels accepts the compliment—his practice is fueled by just that.

To remove a benign polyp from singer Adele's vocal cord, Zeitels channeled ambidextrous skills he learned from sewing leather as a teenager. "Leather-work is similar to surgery," he says, "except there's no blood."

To reconstruct a trachea and allow a patient to speak, Zeitels teamed up with a thoracic surgeon to use a cryo-preserved aorta as a voice box.

Zeitels says the hoarseness of old age can be eased; it's just a matter of keeping vocal cords supple. He's working with researchers to develop a "biogel" for that purpose now.

Timeline

  • 1975

    Receives an inaugural Trustee Scholarship at Boston University

  • 1982

    Graduates from medical school at Boston University

  • 1987

    Completes residency in otolaryngology at Boston University School of Medicine

  • 1998

    Receives the Casselberry Award of the American Laryngological Association for designing a new surgical procedure to treat vocal cord paralysis

  • 2001

    Creates and performs office-based laryngeal laser surgery with topical local anesthesia

  • 2003

    Marries Maria Hananias, a Chilean otolaryngologist

  • 2004

    Creates a laryngeal surgery service at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard University

  • 2005

    Receives Harvard Medical School's first endowed chair in laryngeal surgery

  • 2007

    Promoted to full professor at Harvard Medical School; receives Distinguished Alumnus Award from Boston University School of Medicine

  • 2008

    Publishes scientific report describing a new vocal cord cancer treatment

  • 2012

    Receives recognition from Adele at the 2012 Grammy Awards for surgically restoring her voice

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