By David H. Kirkwood
Lou Ferrigno, who overcame profound hearing loss to become a TV and movie star best known for playing The Incredible Hulk, has long been an inspiration to young people growing up with impaired hearing. He has generously shared his remarkable story as a spokesperson for the Better Hearing Institute for 25 years and as a stalwart supporter of the Starkey Hearing Foundation.
On May 20, the 60-year-old married father of four revealed to tens of millions of viewers of the hit TV show Celebrity Apprentice the latest chapter in his incredible life. Suddenly, he can hear!
Ferrigno recently underwent a surgical procedure to implant an Esteem® Device, a fully implantable prosthetic cochlea stimulator manufactured by Envoy Medical Corporation. As a result, he reports that he has “natural hearing” and can hear things he has never heard before, such as birds chirping and rain falling on his roof. Best of all, he says, he can converse easily with others, even in a restaurant or other noisy environment.
Michael Murray, MD, implanted the device in Ferrigno at Envoy Medical’s private surgical center in Houston. The cost of the device and the procedure was approximately $37,000. Murray, who is based in San Jose, CA, has implanted the devices in hundreds of patients,
The son of a New York City police officer, Lou Ferrigno lost most of his hearing as a toddler, probably as the result of ear infections. At age 4, soon after his loss was diagnosed, he was fitted with his first hearing aids.
As far back as he can remember, Ferrigno says he had to compensate for his hearing loss. At age 13, he began weight training and soon turned himself into a powerhouse. After graduating from high school, where he learned metalworking, he began to compete in bodybuilding contests. At age 18, he won his first major title, the International Federation of Bodybuilders (IFBB) Mr. America crown. Four years later he captured IFBB’s Mr. Universe title, still the youngest person ever to do so.
However, there wasn’t much money in bodybuilding back then, which forced him to subsidize his competition by working as a sheet metal worker in a factory in his native Brooklyn. After that, though he had never played football, the Toronto Argonauts, a team in the Canadian Football League, signed him up as a defensive lineman, a career that lasted only two games.
So, like Arnold Schwarzenegger, one of his arch-rivals as a bodybuilder, Ferrigno turned to acting. Although his hearing loss affected his speech, normally a handicap for an actor, his imposing 6-foot, 5-inch, 285-pound physique, along with his remarkable will power, got him noticed.
Based on a comic book here, the Hulk was the alter ego of Robert Bruce Banner, a physicist who was exposed to radiation. As a result, when Banner gets angry, he is transformed into the gigantic green Hulk. The veteran actor Bill Bixby played the mild-mannered scientist opposite Ferrigno’s angry Hulk, a character nothing like the sweet-natured actor who plays him.
The success of his TV show helped Ferrigno get other parts both in the movies and on TV, frequently playing himself, as in the sitcom The King of Queens.He also played his signature character in movies, most recently in the current blockbuster The Avengers, which is well on its way to becoming the biggest grossing movie ever. There, in an uncredited role, he provides the voice of, you guessed it, The Incredible Hulk.
Lou Ferrigno’s enthusiastic embrace of the Esteem is not the first great publicity that Envoy Medical’s product has received—though it’s probably the greatest.
Last year, in a phenomenon that Hearinghealthmatters.org covered, a video of a 29-year-old woman hearing her own voice for the first time after being implanted went viral. It has now received some 13 million views on YouTube.