PATIENTS suffering from a speech-stealing disease are now able to create their own digital voice.

New software is being trialled by Great Western Hospital therapists.

It allows those diagnosed with motor neurone disease the chance to “bank” clips of their voice before the devastating condition steals it from them.

One of the first patients to try the software was Jon Stephens.

The Senior Supervisor at RAF Brize Norton recorded words and phrases onto the software using a microphone and headset.

Jon, who lives in Chiseldon, said: “After being told I would probably lose my voice, it seemed a good idea to bank it, especially as the technology could create a match for mine.”

Recording the phrases he’d need to last a lifetime was an arduous job. “It took about 14 hours to record the 1,600 phrases, doing 100 to 200 at a time,” he said. “It was hard, as my voice had already started to go.”

He is now testing the synthetic voice, using an app on his tablet computer that speaks words as he types.

A rare condition that effects an estimated 5,000 people in the UK, motor neurone disease hits the muscles in the mouth, throat and tongue – causing people problems with speaking.

Great Western Hospital’s speech and language team have recently bought a new laptop and software.

After recording a range of phrases and words into the computer, the software creates a digital version of the person’s voice – capable of speaking an infinite range of words and phrases.

Dr Graham Lennox, consultant neurologist at GWH, said: “Treatment options for MND are still very limited, so voice banking is one way we can work around the problems it can cause.

“When voice synthesisers were first introduced, you had the choice of a male or female voice. Now to have something that sounds like you is amazing.”

GWH speech therapist Lucie Spurway, who introduced the scheme, said: “Losing our voice can often feel like we’re losing our identity, so we try to offer this to our motor neurone disease patients as early as possible, if it is appropriate for them.

“The voice banking technology means that a patient can record words before communicating becomes difficult and, as the synthesised voice is based on their real voice, it can help to retain their sense of identity.”

A range of tools, from alphabet charts to high-tech systems operated by patients moving their eyeballs, are used by GWH speech therapists.

Lucie said: “Voice banking isn’t for everyone and we have to work with each individual to decide on the best plan for them. We look at many things including what the person does in their day and with who they need to communicate.”