The world of medicine lost a true giant this month when Dr. William F. House passed away. Dr. House pioneered many of the treatments we take for granted today in the treatment of ear and skull base diseases. Known as the Father of Neurotology, Dr. House was the first surgeon to develop the middle fossa surgical approach using a microscope, and use of the otologic drill and irrigation to remove tumors such as acoustic neuromas. He popularized the translabyrinthine approach for acoustic neuromas which preserved facial nerves during surgery and reduced the mortality rate for patients with these tumors from 40 percent to less than 2 percent.
Like many visionaries who are ahead of their time, Dr. House often found himself the center of controversy over his work. Dr. House devised new surgical techniques—such as laying the patient down during surgery, rather than having them sit up—that have become standard practice today. Dr. House also developed the cochlear implant for patients with severe deafness. His colleagues felt his use of cochlear implants was not studied well enough to be in widespread use, but Dr. House’s patients were benefitting from restored hearing with his new device. Today, cochlear implants are a standard treatment for patients with severe deafness.
Ever the progressive innovator, Dr. House joined his brother Howard in establishing the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles in the 1980s to conduct research and develop new treatments for middle and inner ear disorders. The brothers ran the Institute for years until Dr. Bill—as he was fondly known to patients—decided to focus solely on private practice. By then, he had earned an international reputation and had travelled the world teaching other surgeons in South Africa, Europe and Asia the techniques he had developed. The American Medical Association bestowed its highest honor on Dr. House in 1974, the Distinguished Service Award. The Royal Society of Medicine in London named him an honorary member in 1979. And the American Otological Society honored him with its highest accolade, the Irving S. Cutter Gold Medal for outstanding contributions to medicine. Dr. Bill established a highly successful office in Newport Beach until he retired from private practice in 2001 at the age of 78.
I was fortunate to join Dr. Bill in his Newport Beach practice in 1999, where I worked with him until he retired. I consider him a mentor and friend. When he retired, Dr. Bill asked me to continue working with his patients. To this day, I have many patients come into the office and reminisce on their fond memories of Dr. Bill. Our office manager, Mary Kay Bishop, spent many years with Dr. Bill as his administrator and has fond memories as well. “He was a true visionary,” MaryKay has said on more than one occasion. “We actually had an electronic medical record 20 years ago, before it ever became a standard in patient care. But what distinguished Dr. Bill was his dedication to his patients. They loved him. He helped so many of them with his willingness to develop new methods of treatment. The practice of neurotology simply would not be where it is today without Dr. Bill.”
He was beloved by his patients and admired by his colleagues. On a personal note, I will miss Dr. Bill and am extremely fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to have known him.