Professor’s research assistant speaks clearly with no tongue

When Betty McMicken, a Cal State Long Beach communicative disorders professor, met Kelly Rogers in the waiting room of her office 26 years ago, she had no idea what to expect. The then 16-year-old Rogers had been born with congenital aglossia – meaning she was born without a tongue.

McMicken had no idea of Rogers’ condition. Rogers smiled as she sat in McMiken’s office, speaking just as well as someone with a tongue.

“Being a person with congenital aglossia all the time, everyday, had been an adjustment,” Rogers said. “It’s something that I didn’t think about initially. I chose not to think about it.”

Rogers, a student at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, is now pursuing a degree in communication disorders and hopes to transfer to CSULB in the fall. She originally wanted to major in fashion merchandise, but after some convincing from McMicken, she decided to change her path to communicative disorders.

McMicken, who recently won two awards from the American Speech and Hearing Association, said her initial meeting with Rogers was to evaluate whether Rogers should have jaw surgery.

“When I met Kelly [Rogers], I was asked by her mom to assess her for a possible mandibular advancement [lower jaw surgery],” McMicken said. “That was familiar to me, but assessing a person for that procedure who has congenital aglossia was brand new territory.”

Rogers said she sought the lower jaw surgery for cosmetic reasons. She is one of 11 people worldwide to be diagnosed with isolated congenital aglossia since 1718, and one of the few people currently living with the condition, according to McMicken.

Rogers’ articulation surprised McMicken, who concluded that she did not need the surgery.

“Don’t touch the structure, because we might impair her very competent speech,” McMicken said.

Rogers and McMicken met briefly two more times to do X-rays and films but did not see each other for the next 26 years. Then, three years ago while McMicken was on tenure track and looking at a cineradiography study of someone with normal speech, she said that she immediately thought of Rogers.

McMicken then decided to look at Roger’s X-rays again, and now they cover her office.

Rogers and McMicken connected again later via email after a Long Beach Press Telegram article included a picture of Roger’s mouth but referred to her as Carol.

“It was a little strange to find out that a picture of my mouth had been in a newspaper,” Rogers said. “It took me a day to process it, and I talked to a good friend who encouraged me to contact Betty [McMicken].”

McMicken said reuniting with the now 42-year-old Rogers was emotional.

“It was like rediscovering a family member,” McMicken said.

Rogers now works at CSULB for McMicken as a personal research assistant. Their reuniting to do research on human speech will phenomenally help the field of speech science, McMicken said.

“We are now working on how she produces clearly articulated consonants without a tongue,” MicMicken said. “Understanding the anatomical elements necessary for Kelly [Rogers] to speak … will help the field of speech language pathology better assist individuals who are born with cranio-facial deficits.”

Rogers and McMicken next plan to travel to the University of Brazil in Brasilia on Jan. 13 to meet with a 23-year-old woman who also has congenital aglossia.

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