"The speech and swallowing symptoms that accompany neurological disorders are puzzles that need to be explored and solved so that patients can have a better quality of life."
Celia Stewart became interested in working with people who have speech and swallowing disorders when her six-year-old nephew developed symptoms of a neurological disorder and had difficulty communicating and eating. Fortunately, he had a full recovery, but she continued to be interested in the breakdowns that can result from neurological disease.
Today Dr. Stewart describes her vocation as fascinating and immensely rewarding. “The speech and swallowing symptoms that accompany neurological disorders are puzzles that need to be explored and solved so that patients can have a better quality of life. My patients are wonderful people with great attitudes about life, and my research can help make their lives better. As a result, that makes everyone's life better.”a
Stewart began teaching at NYU after receiving her Ph.D. here in 1993. She was immediately struck by the diversity of the faculty interests, and remains so today. “There's a real respect and admiration among faculty members because each professor's expertise is in a different area, yet we work together toward the common goal of having a strong, exciting department. Consequently, we remain vibrant and enthusiastic about the field.”
Professor Stewart's research focuses on speech and swallowing deterioration resulting from neurological disorders. She works with people who have spasmodic dysphonia, a neurological disorder that affects the movement of the vocal folds and makes it difficult for individuals to speak. “When a patient has spasmodic dysphonia, his voice sounds as though he is being choked while talking. Together with some colleagues, we found a treatment that relieves the symptoms. Now, I work to identify people who need the treatment, follow up with them to determine the treatment's efficacy, and do research to further understand the nature of the disorder.”
Recently Professor Stewart received an NYU Challenge Grant to study the swallowing problems that occur when people have Huntington's disease. “I'm collaborating with several students on this project. We are evaluating the changes in motor control and movement as the disease progresses. This is very exciting because we hope to find a pattern of symptoms and identify a treatment that can slow the progression of the speech and swallowing symptoms. Collaboration makes the research fun because the students are excited to learn about the disorders, and the patients are excited to learn about the students.”
In her spare time, Stewart volunteers her services to the not-for-profit group WE MOVE, which disseminates up-to-the-minute research to people who have movement disorders. She received the 1997-1998 Goddard Faculty Fellowship Award, the 2000 New York State Distinguished Clinician Award, and the 2001 Dystonia Medical Foundation Award.
Mostly though, Stewart plans for the future of the department. “We are in a growth phase at the moment and are actively seeking new faculty who will allow us to further expand the areas of expertise in the department and make it an even more dynamic environment.”
In addition, Professor Stewart works closely with her students to ensure that they have a strong education. “We want our graduates to be competent and to feel excited about the field. Helping our students achieve successful and fulfilling professional lives is the best measure of our success.”