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On the Front Lines of Dysphagia: Cherie Larson

Dysphagia affects an estimated 590 million people worldwide[i], yet the swallowing disorder is often overlooked and unknown. June is recognized as Dysphagia Awareness Month, and as such, we’ll be sharing the stories of patients, caregivers, healthcare professionals and others impacted by the disorder on our social media pages and blog. Our hope is that “On the Front Lines of Dysphagia” will help raise awareness of the disorder, and ultimately, as with everything we do, improve the lives of those living with it.

Our first interview is with Cherie Larson, regional sales manager for the Personal Nutrition Solutions (PNS) division of Kent Precision Foods Group, Inc. (KPFG). Under the PNS division, KPFG produces the Thick-It® brand family of products.

Q: Tell me about your experience working with people with dysphagia and their caregivers.

A: My mom was a nurse. I remember her coming home one day and being so upset about how some of the certified nursing assistants would ignore the patients with dysphagia during meal service and she said, “Just because that person cannot communicate on the outside, does not mean that they are not screaming on the inside.” I still remember her saying that, and it helps me see the dysphagia patient – and all of the patients – in a new light. A lot of times, the only thing these patients really truly have to live for is their food, medication, and their loved ones to visit. I want to help give them a better dining experience – be it variety, flavor, or texture – and a better quality of life no matter what health condition they’re in. Despite their illness, this person is still a human being, and they deserve all the same things the healthy population has on a daily basis.

Q: What do you love about your job?

A: I’ve always had a passion for people to be happy and well, and it goes back to growing up in the restaurant business. There’s a lot of joy when people come together for a meal. I want people with dysphagia to be able to enjoy that again and get their dignity back.

Q: Have you seen firsthand how dysphagia affects patients’ dignity, confidence and quality of life?

A: Oh, absolutely. When you tell them they can’t eat or drink normal food anymore, oftentimes there’s anger, fear, and anxiety that erupts. They tend to stop being social and don’t want to leave their rooms. They don’t want to sit at a table with friends who are eating normal food while they have to eat a modified diet. Their personalities typically change and they can become depressed.

I remember one facility where they had a hard time getting a patient to drink anything thickened. She loved sweet tea before she was diagnosed, so we brought in our Thick-It® Clear Advantage® Thickened Tea. Her caregivers added sugar to the pre-thickened tea, and then I watched her chug it. To see the smile on her face and also see how excited the caregiver was because she was drinking was amazing.

Q: Why are you passionate about selling Thick-It® products?

A: The Thick-It® brand has been trusted for more than 30 years, and our focus has always been on the patient who is now living with an altered meal and beverage experience. We help them get their dignity back by giving them reliable, quality, flavorful products that enhance their meal experience, allowing them to share those special moments around the dinner table again!


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[1] International Dysphagia Diet Standardisation Initiative

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