Teen overcomes breathing disorder to continue performing

Kelly Conaghan will compete in World Irish Dancing Championships next month
Teen overcomes breathing disorder to continue performing

A Madison teenager will compete in the World Irish Dancing Championships next month in London after dealing with breathing disorder that temporarily stopped her from dancing.

Kelly Conaghan began Irish dance when she was 5 years old after a friend introduced her to it.

“I just love the feeling when you’re dancing. You kind of forget everything you’re focusing on, everything you’re doing,” Conaghan said.

She has been dancing with the Cashel Dennehy School of Irish Dance. The school is based in Milwaukee but has a branch in Madison.

However this past November Conaghan began having trouble breathing while performing.

“When I would dance, after I would stop I would try to breathe and everything would just get really tight in my throat, and air, it just felt like it wasn’t working. It just wouldn’t come in,” Conaghan said.

Conaghan has sports induced asthma, but knew something was different. She described having episodes of difficulty breathing at every practice as terrifying. Ultimately, she stopped dancing.

After many trips to different doctors Conaghan was diagnosed with paradoxical vocal fold motion disorder, or PVFM.

“It describes the movement of the vocal folds restricting the airway and making it difficult to breathe,” said Kate McConville, speech pathologist at the University of Wisconsin Voice and Swallowing Clinic and Conaghan’s therapist.

McConville said PVFM is not life-threatening, but the episodes can be a scary experience. She went on to say PVFM can negatively impact the quality of a person’s life .

McConville and Conaghan began meeting twice a week in December, but have scaled their sessions back to once every other week.

During their sessions McConville focuses on what can influence a person’s breathing, tension relaxation, avoiding irritants that may trigger an episode and exercises that concentrate on the larynx.

McConville will observe Conaghan’s breathing during choreography then share those observations and feedback with her.

“I think she has some good days, some bad days and is learning how to manage both kinds of days,” said McConville when asked how Conaghan was doing.

Conaghan said she applies what McConville has taught her to Irish dancing, and she has not had an episode since December.

Conaghan and her Irish dance team will head to London in 30 days.