Inventor of the first cochlear implant, Dr. William House passed away this month. The New York Times had a lovely article about his life’s work, and some facts within it are astonishing:
- Dr. William House didn’t achieve financial gain by patenting any of his inventions. Instead, he chose not to inhibit research or development on the device.
- Dr. House enabled astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. (the first American launched into space) to visit the moon on the Apollo 14 mission. Shepard’s Meniere’s disease would have kept him on Earth without Dr. House’s first-ever first surgical solution to the condition.
- He also developed new surgeries to remove certain brain tumors at a survival rate of over 99% — previously 40%, of patients didn’t survive the operation.
- Dr. House pioneered the use of microscopes in surgery. Scores of surgeries today rely on microscopes, but at the time, many in the medical community were extremely opposed — they didn’t believe a surgeon should use anything but good eyesight.
- The cochlear implant is the first device to restore any human sense.
- To Dr. William House, the bones of the inner ear were as beautiful as the Grand Canyon.
- Even after Dr. House’s cochlear implant design was made all but obsolete by more sophisticated versions, he staunchly advocated the use of his simpler design as a solution for global, poor populations.
That early cochlear implant design by Dr. House was exactly the one that Dr. Noel Cohen spoke to this agency about just a few weeks ago; the single-channel* device worked, but its shortcomings inspired Dr. Cohen’s mission to develop better, multichannel versions. (The Center for Hearing and Communication celebrated Dr. Cohen, a long time friend of the CHC, and his achievements with a naming ceremony in November.)
Dr. William House died in his home at the age of 89. CHC wishes his family peace and honors his contributions. We echo his passion in our shared mission to help people with hearing loss access the world of sound.
*See the comment below from Dr. House’s son, David House, regarding Dr. House’s cochlear device.