William Fouts House (December 1, 1923 in Kansas City, Missouri – December 7, 2012 in Aurora, Oregon) was an American otologist, physician and medical researcher who developed and invented the cochlear implant. The cochlear implant is considered to be the first invention to restore not just the sense of hearing, but any of the absent five senses in humans.
Hearing aids amplify sound to help the hearing-impaired. But many deaf people cannot hear at all because sound cannot be transmitted to their brains, however much it is amplified.
This is because the delicate hair cells that line the cochlea, the liquid-filled spiral cavity of the inner ear, are damaged. When healthy, these hairs — more than 15,000 altogether — translate mechanical vibrations produced by sound into electrical signals and deliver them to the auditory nerve.
Dr. House’s cochlear implant electronically translated sound into mechanical vibrations. His initial device, implanted in 1961, was eventually rejected by the body. But after refining its materials, he created a long-lasting version and implanted it in 1969.
More than a decade would pass before the Food and Drug Administration approved the cochlear implant, but when it did, in 1984, Mark Novitch, the agency’s deputy commissioner, said, ‘‘For the first time a device can, to a degree, replace an organ of the human senses.’’
One of Dr. House’s early implant patients, from an experimental trial, wrote to him in 1981 saying, ‘‘I no longer live in a world of soundless movement and voiceless faces.’’
But for 27 years, Dr. House had faced stern opposition while he was developing the device. Doctors and scientists said it would not work, or not work very well, calling it a cruel hoax on people desperate to hear.
Some said he was motivated by the prospect of financial gain. Some criticized him for experimenting on humans. Some advocates for the deaf said the device deprived its users of the dignity of their deafness without fully integrating them into the hearing world.
Even when the American Academy of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology endorsed implants in 1977, it specifically denounced Dr. House’s version.
It recommended more complicated versions, which were then under development and later became the standard. But his work is broadly viewed as having sped the development of implants and enlarged understanding of the inner ear.
According to bostonglobe.com