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Dr. Howard Payne House, 95; Ear Specialist Founded Institute to Advance Hearing Research

August 02, 2003|Allison M. Heinrichs | Times Staff Writer

Dr. Howard Payne House, groundbreaking ear specialist and founder of the internationally renowned House Ear Institute, died Friday of heart failure at St. Vincent Medical Center. He was 95.

"Howard has done more for hearing impaired people around the world than perhaps any other single individual," said James D. Boswell, the institute's chief executive. "He was a great physician and a great human being. Literally hundreds of thousands of people have been helped by his insight."

House dedicated his 64-year career to the advancement of hearing research. He established the Los Angeles-based institute in 1946 to develop treatments for hearing problems. House treated thousands of patients at the institute and abroad, including Bob Hope, Howard Hughes and former President Reagan.

House perfected the wire loop technique, a procedure to correct a common hearing problem in which the three bones of the inner ear become calcified and stick together. By surgically inserting a wire loop into the middle ear, the innovative procedure allows for the transmission of sound from the middle ear to the inner ear. House performed the surgery on thousands of hearing-impaired patients.

"It was the surgery of its time and, in that way, very revolutionary," Boswell said. "It allowed people who didn't hear to be able to."

Under House's leadership, the institute became the first medical organization to film surgical procedures by adapting movie cameras for use with a surgical microscope. Those filming techniques have been used to create professional medical training videos.

House was also instrumental in the development of the cochlear implant, a tiny device that is surgically inserted behind the ear and, when used in conjunction with a small external receiver, can pick up sounds and help compensate for hearing impairments. The institute has continued to develop those devices, which have restored some auditory sensation to more than 50,000 people worldwide.

Appointed chairman of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration Subcommittee on Noise in 1947, House was influential in the earliest efforts to establish the guidelines for industrial hearing protection, directing a national study on industrial noise. This study set the OSHA hearing conservation standards that are still in use today.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to the field of auditory research was the establishment of the House Ear Institute. After graduating from Whittier College in 1930 and USC Medical School in 1935, he traveled the world, visiting and observing the work of ear surgeons throughout Europe and the United States. In 1946, he founded the institute with a plan to enhance hearing research by bringing together and developing the ideas of ear surgeons worldwide.

Begun as a one-man laboratory, the institute is now housed in a five-story building that accommodates a staff of more than 175 people dedicated to the advancement of auditory research.

The House Ear Clinic for treating hearing loss, ear diseases and related disorders was established in the same building.

"We will really miss him because he was a legendary figure and a very compassionate physician," said Akira Ishiyama, an ear surgeon at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "He really took good care of his patients."

House is survived by his two sons, Dr. Kenneth M. House and Dr. John W. House; daughter Carolyn Helmuth; brothers Dr. William F. House and Dr. James House; and nine grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 19 at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove.

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