Thomas J. Balkany, M.D., Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

For more than 20 years, Thomas J. Balkany, M.D., director of the University of Miami Ear Institute, has studied cochlear implants and dedicated his professional career to giving the gift of sound.

For his unwavering commitment to and distinction as a world leader in hearing and hearing restoration, Balkany received the AXA Advisors Lifetime Achievement Award from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce at its May 22 Health Care Heroes Awards Luncheon. The award honors an individual who has significantly impacted the health care industry in South Florida and whose dedication to excellence in their field reaches beyond their profession.

In a brief acceptance speech, Balkany modestly credited his family and colleagues, including his wife Diane Balkany, W. Jarrard Goodwin, M.D., past chair of otolaryngology and recipient of the 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, and Fred Telischi, M.D., professor and chair of otolaryngology. “I am honored to receive this award, but it was really a group effort,” he said. “Without the support of my wife and colleagues, this would not have been possible.”

Balkany, the Hotchkiss Endowed Professor of Otolaryngology and chief of the Division of Otology, has published three books and more than 300 scientific publications and holds 14 U.S. and international patents on cochlear implant technologies.

Unlike a hearing aid that amplifies incoming sound, a cochlear implant is a computerized device that bypasses the damaged hair cells in the inner ear and converts sound waves into electrical energy to stimulate the auditory nerve. Since their approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1985, the devices — 200,000 of which have been implanted to date — have advanced tremendously, due in large measure to pioneers like Balkany.

A member of the Miller School faculty since 1990, he still offers hope for the 12,000 babies born in the U.S. with hearing loss each year through his ongoing research. He has trained more than 300 surgeons, and he and his team of researchers have participated in nearly every FDA clinical cochlear implant trial over the past 20 years, actively working with manufacturers to develop and test experimental implants.

“There is no one more deserving of the Lifetime Achievement Award,” said Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Dean of the Miller School. “In his 22 years at the Miller School, Tom has helped build one of the best cochlear implant programs in the country, and his commitment to science and patient care is unprecedented.”

In 2009, when Balkany was honored for the 10 years he served as chair of the Department of Otolaryngology, University of Miami President Donna E. Shalala called him “one of the University’s true heroes, a man who can make miracles happen as he restores the sense of hearing to those who have never heard a sound.”

Under his leadership, the department grew in national and international stature, climbing in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings every year and consistently remaining in the top 20.

For his work on the ethics of cochlear implants in deaf infants, which is now the standard in the field, Balkany was honored with the New York League for the Hard of Hearing’s Fowler Award in Otology. He was among the first to describe preservation of residual neural function with cochlear implants, use of electrical evoked potentials through a cochlear implant, neurotrophic effects of electrical stimulation on the dorsal cochlear nucleus, bilateral cochlear implantation, and endoscopic surgery of the cochlea.

Over his career, Balkany, who recently marked his 10th anniversary as one of America’s Top Doctors, has received numerous other awards. They include the Miller School’s Teaching Award, the University of Miami Provost’s Award for Scholarly Activity, election to the Miller School Hall of Fame, the Hallpike-Nylen prize for clinical research from the Bárány Society in Uppsala, Sweden, and Presidential Citations from the American Academy of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery and the American Otological Society. He also was honored by the Israeli Prime Minister for implementing Israel’s first cochlear implant programs.

Joshua M. Hare, M.D., director of the Interdisciplinary Stem Cell Institute and the Louis Lemberg Professor of Medicine, was a finalist in the Bio-Medical category for his contributions to mechanistic, translational, and clinical research in the field of heart failure and left ventricular dysfunction. Hare is the leading clinician-scientist advancing stem cell therapy for heart disease. His seminal work has shown that bone marrow mesenchymal stem cells can heal injured hearts in clinically meaningful ways.

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