NEW PORT RICHEY — John Timpanelli has been singing all his life — at least for as long as he can remember. But while undergoing a thymectomy (surgical removal of the thymus gland) a year ago, the singer's vocal cord was inadvertently paralyzed, leaving him nearly speechless. Doctors said he would never sing again.
But after a long hiatus, Timpanelli is back and defying the odds. In fact, the entertainer recently performed his first show in more than a year at the Columbian Event Center. He's also on the entertainment schedule at Chasco Fiesta in New Port Richey, as part of the "Just off Broadway" concert from 6 to 9 p.m. March 12 at Sims Park.
Entertaining again was an answer to Timpanelli's and his family's prayers.
Timpanelli, 52, was diagnosed five years ago with Myasthenia gravis, a form of muscular dystrophy that causes the immune system to attack the body's own tissues. His symptoms included double vision, weakness, slurred speech, fatigue, and problems with chewing, swallowing and breathing.
The thymectomy was supposed to alleviate the problems, but instead paralyzed his vocal cords. For months, Timpanelli underwent numerous blood transfusions, but continued to have trouble speaking. He could talk only in whispers and, when he did, it caused constant discomfort.
Then suddenly, he was cured.
"It was really something people would have to see to believe," Timpanelli said. "I woke up one morning, and my voice was back. Of course it wasn't where it is now, but it was 60 to 70 percent back."
His doctors were stumped. They say it is a miracle, but the entertainer has his own theory — snoring helped bring his voice back.
Months ago, Timpanelli stopped using his CPAP breathing machine, which he used for sleep apnea. When he stopped, his snoring returned. And eventually so did his voice.
"I think the snoring helped vibrate the cord," he said. "And like a muscle, (the cord) was building strength."
As for the Myasthenia gravis, Timpanelli said that also has improved. He still has episodes of muscle weakness, but Timpanelli's neurologist gave him a clean bill of health.
"Some good things come from snoring," Timpanelli said.
Timpanelli has been singing professionally for more than 40 years. He performed with some of the greats — Buddy Hackett, Shirley Jones, Carol Channing and Red Skelton — and performed on cruise ships for more than 15 years. After the show at Chasco, Timpanelli plans to get back to work.
He will perform April 19 at the Thursday Musicale's 70th anniversary concert in Hudson. Then he will perform his one-man show April 28 in Seminole. For a full schedule, visit tinpanalleyprod.com.
"I'm trying to stay busy," Timpanelli said. "I feel like I've been reborn."