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Auditory Pioneer: Dr. Richard Miyamoto opens up the world of sound and opportunity

P R O F I L E - Richard T. Miyamoto, M.D., FACS, FAAP

- Arilla Spence DeVault Professor and Chairman of Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery

- Medical Director of Audiology and Speech–Language Pathology

Education

- Wheaton College, 1966
- University of Michigan, 1970
- Residency: Indiana University, 1975

Fellowship

- Otology, University of Southern California, 1978
- M.S. in Otology, 1978


While in medical school Dr. Richard T. Miyamoto met children whose deafness severely limited them. They often couldn’t attend school and only if a teacher was found could they learn sign language. Even with hearing aids, few learned to speak.

Dr. Miyamoto believed these kids deserved more. In the Los Angeles hospital he left in 1978 to join Riley, clinical trials had begun for cochlear implants, then a pioneering technology. Dr. Miyamoto was asked to become one of seven co-investigators in the first national trial, monitored by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

The results of the trials astounded skeptical scientists – and delighted parents who thought they’d never hear “I love you.”

“Ninety percent of deaf kids are born into hearing families. Those families want their kids to communicate with them,” said Dr. Miyamoto. “For most parents, it’s the first time they’ve encountered deafness personally. They don’t know what to do.”

Funding gives research a foothold

Cochlear implants, which are inserted surgically and permanently, directly stimulate any functioning auditory nerves with electrical impulses, sending signals the brain “hears.”

The FDA asked Dr. Miyamoto to be the program’s spokesperson. Next, the National Institutes of Health asked him to apply for a grant. The NIH awarded the first grant in 1987 and has funded the program since.

Dr. Miyamoto’s initial source of research funding, however, came from Riley Children’s Foundation. Since cochlear implants enabled deaf children to hear, Riley Hospital needed educators who knew how to work with those children. Local chapters of Lions Club International and Psi Iota Xi, a philanthropic sorority, helped raise money to hire these experts. Every educator hired by Dr. Miyamoto has been awarded his or her own NIH grant, making Riley Hospital’s otolaryngology department one of the top research programs in the country.

Cochlear implant success

Children as young as 6 months old are getting cochlear implants.

“The most important variable in how well kids do with cochlear implants is how early you start,” said Dr. Miyamoto. “They’re growing up with these devices and progressing more rapidly than older kids who get them.”

Doctors already have crossed the next frontier: bilateral implants, or one for each ear.

“Studies show that just like having two ears is better than one, having two implants increases the quality of a deaf person’s life,” Dr. Miyamoto said.