Vocal cord dysfunction exercises allow teen to continue sports, follow dreams

For years, Gavin Inkleaar’s heart could be found wherever there was a hockey puck.

“When I was younger I went to a birthday party at the ice rink and skating came naturally to me,” says the 16-year-old Goddard High School student. “Then I started playing hockey and I fell in love with the sport.”

Unfortunately, Gavin, who plays the winger position for the Wichita Junior Thunder, could only play for 30 minutes before his breathing would threaten his ability to play safely.

“My chest was on fire, but I would fight through it because I didn’t want to show my coach, teammates or even my mom that I couldn’t handle playing, so I pushed through it,” he says.

When he would come off the rink, he would be dizzy and his pupils extremely dilated.

“I was afraid that if I didn’t stop him from playing sports, something bad would happen – and I didn’t want either of those things,” says his mother, Rose Inkleaar.

When his asthma medication did not help, he was referred to a cardiologist, who ruled out heart issues. His allergist ran further tests, which indicated a possible vocal cord dysfunction; he then referred him to Angela Parcaro-Tucker, lead speech-language pathologist at the Ascension Via Christi Therapy Center on St. Francis.

“She explained what exercises we would be doing, why we were doing them and really connected the dots for me,” says Gavin, who for the past year has been undergoing speech therapy with Pacaro-Tucker.

“Gavin and his mother were motivated and dedicated to finding a solution to this problem and were eager to implement the suggestions I made to them,” says Parcaro-Tucker. “It is extremely important that the therapist listens to the patient and tailors the exercises to the activity that causes problems for the patient in that situation.”

What Rose appreciated about Angela was her willingness to make Gavin’s therapy as minimally disrupting to their lives as possible.

“She would meet with us before school so neither of us had to miss classes. Angela’s personal care of making exercises tailored to Gavin’s sports made us even more grateful to have her help,” says Rose, a paraprofessional at Goddard Middle School.

Gavin, a Navy Sea cadet who is planning on enlisting upon graduation, is excited about the opportunity to pursue his dreams without limitations.

“At first, I was embarrassed to do my exercises since it is noisy, but now I just do them and then explain to others, who are usually understanding,” he says. “Everything Angela taught me has made my life so much better because I can do everything I want to.”

Rose and Gavin encourage others struggling with health issues to seek help, follow their medical professionals’ advice and, most importantly, remain hopeful.

“We didn’t think we would be here, but I’m glad we found answers and now Gavin has the tools he needs to do what he loves,” says Rose, who loves traveling with his team and seeing him make friends, have fun and find his passions.

“Don’t hide your inability to do something and find help when you need it,” says Gavin. “When you get help, try your hardest to follow that advice and don’t hold back.”