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When Dr. Victor Goodhill Talks Ears, People Listen

November 05, 1985|TIA GINDICK | Times Staff Writer

Dr. Victor Goodhill didn't bother hiding his scorn. They're stupid, he declared, these people who purposely expose themselves to loud noises. Why, every time you go hunting and fire a rifle, "you lose a little hearing." People in noisy work places, steel plants or other heavy industry, "usually lose some of their hearing," and maybe that's difficult to avoid. But to choose to surround yourself with noise, like a blaring stereo. . . . He shook his head, his disgust obvious:

"There's a certain sickness in wanting to be vibrated by loud noises."

Study of the Ear

Victor Goodhill talks otology, the study of the ear--and people listen. He's seen it all--from the days when a simple ear infection from a cold could be life-threatening to pioneering certain microsurgery techniques that restore hearing. His formal title since 1960 is professor of otology surgery at the UCLA School of Medicine. (He no longer practices medicine.) He also is chairman of the Hope for Hearing Research Foundation at UCLA, author of two books on otology and a contributor to many more, plus more than 160 scientific papers.

At 74, Goodhill's credits, honors and accomplishments stack up like Bruin basketball championships. And now, another for the man many consider to be the father of otology: UCLA is establishing a major center for basic and clinical research and treatment of deafness, dysequilibrium and speech disorders. It will be named for Goodhill, who will be the honoree at a $150-per-person testimonial dinner Sunday at the Beverly Wilshire to raise funds for creation of an endowment for research support.

Pleased by the Honor

Clearly pleased by the honor, Goodhill sees the center, which will be part of the UCLA Medical School's division of head and neck surgery and an extension of its already existing eye clinic and research facilities, as an opportunity "to dig deeper and deeper to open up the deaf ear.

"There's no limit to what we can do," he said, sitting in his small office at UCLA's Rehabilitation Center. "The problems are vast, but the problems are surmountable. I'm a great optimist."

Goodhill is at a stage in his career when retrospection is inevitable. Especially since what's happened in otology since he entered the field is akin to the progress between the horseless carriage and the space shuttle.

When he was studying medicine at USC in the late 1930s, rotating through the various surgeries, "I became interested in ear, nose and throat. That was before antibiotics, and ear diseases were very life threatening. I'll give you an example. At the hospital (Cedars of Lebanon) where I was interning, 90% of the meningitis cases were caused by ear diseases and hearing loss. And when you consider the other effects of mishearing or not hearing, the tremendous breaks in human communication, you can understand why it seemed so vital.

"No antibiotics--do you know what that meant? Why the average pediatrician spent 70% of his time taking care of ear infections. There was no sulfa, no nothing. The only thing that could be done was an incision in the eardrum where, if all went well, the liquid (created by a cold or virus) would drain. But if there were complications, why, it could lead to brain abscess or meningitis.

Medical Father

"So that's what triggered me off, along with a man named John McKenzie Brown. He was USC's only professor of ear, nose and throat and he became my medical father."

The development of the sulfa drugs in the early '40s changed everything. "That was our first big weapon to fight the infections from which ear problems evolved. By caring for middle-ear infections, we could actually save lives. But besides that, we were able to knock the bug out before it destroyed the hearing."

There were other developments. But first, Goodhill must take to a wall chart for a mini-lecture on the parts and mechanics of the ear. He begins at the beginning--the major causes of deafness: middle-ear infections due to respiratory infections, aging, any kind of trauma from battle wounds in war, a physical blow and noise. Yes, he reiterates, noise is a major and growing cause of hearing loss at all ages.

Congenital deafness is a less prevalent problem, he said. "I doubt that in L.A. there are more than 1,500 children who were born deaf (and are now attending) city schools or for whom the John Tracy clinic does such wonders."

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