Dr. William F. House dies; otology pioneer developed the first cochlear implant

The following is based on the obituary provided by the House Research Institute.

 

William F. House, MD
William F. House, MD

AURORA, OR–William F. House, MD, who pioneered the cochlear implant, died at his home in Aurora on December 7, at age 89.

“William House was considered the Father of Neurotology because of his pioneering development approaches for the removal of acoustic tumors and the management of patients with disabling vertigo,” said William House’s nephew, John House, MD, who is a House Clinic physician and president of the House Research Institute.

John House continued, “He is also credited with the development of cochlear implants. He persevered despite resistance by established medicine. They said it could not be done and he should not continue this work. Millions of deaf children and adults are now hearing because of his pioneering work.”

William House obtained his bachelor’s and doctorate of dental surgery from the University of California, Berkeley, and his medical degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Medicine. Board-certified in otolaryngology, he dealt with problems of hearing loss and is noted by the American Academy of Otolaryngology to have developed more new concepts in otology than almost any other single person. He received many awards, including the Physician of the Year award in 1985 by the President’s Committee on Employment of the Handicapped.

 

STARTED IN DENTISTRY

House started his career in health care in 1941 when he entered dental school, during which time he met and married June Stendahl, who was a nursing student. He then became a dental officer in the United States Navy, but left the military for medical school.

Following a residency in otolaryngology at the Los Angeles County Hospital, William House joined his brother, Howard House, MD, at his otology practice. Howard House was also founder of the Los Angeles Foundation of Otology, a non-profit research institution that later became known as the House Ear Institute and is now called House Research Institute, to reflect its expanding research.

William House used the resources of the institute for research on a wide variety of inner ear problems and later became president at the institute. He is widely credited with introducing the use of the operating microscope to neurosurgery, performing a large number of microsurgical ear operations, and using the microscope for removal of tumors on the hearing nerve.

He developed procedures for surgical treatment of chronically infected ears and cholesteatoma removal, the first surgical treatment for the debilitating vertigo of Meniere’s disease (which allowed the astronaut Alan Shepard to resume his career and fly to the moon), and several of the basic surgical approaches for removal of tumors on the auditory nerve, including an approach to try to save hearing while still removing the tumor.

 

COCHLEAR IMPLANT AROUSED CONTROVERSY

Perhaps William House’s  greatest achievement was development of the cochlear implant to restore hearing to the profoundly deaf. The concept was extremely controversial when he started his clinical research — first with adults and later with children — but his persistence in pursuing this attempt to provide hearing to his deaf patients resulted in the Food and Drug Administration announcing in November 1984, on national television, a pre-market approval for the 3M/House Cochlear Implant as the first medical device to restore a human sense.

He continued to work to make a low-cost, simple cochlear implant available, especially for developing countries where the currently commercially available devices are too expensive and the equipment and expertise required to set and adjust the devices are beyond the reach of the general population.

William House’s recent memoir, The Struggles of a Medical Innovator: Cochlear Implants and Other Ear Surgeries, details his struggles and triumphs.

He is survived by his daughter, Karen House, and son, David House, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.