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Dr. John Niparko, hearing specialist and surgeon, dies

Former Hopkins surgeon was leader in the field of cochlear implants and restored hearing to many patients.

Dr. John K. Niparko, a surgeon and otolaryngologist whose work restored hearing to profoundly deaf patients, died of complications from cancer treatment Monday at the University of Southern California's Keck Medical Center.

The former Glen Arm resident was 61.

Dr. Niparko served the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine for many years and established its innovative Listening Center.

In a statement, Hopkins officials said he was "a premier physician-scientist who undertook groundbreaking research and surgical innovations to address disorders of the ear and skull base."

"Dr. Niparko was a leading authority on implantable devices to improve the hearing of the profoundly deaf and severely hard of hearing," said the statement. "Under Dr. Niparko's leadership, the Hopkins Listening Center's Cochlear Implant Program became the largest of its kind in the country."

Born in Detroit, Dr. Niparko became fascinated as a high school student with early inner-era implant devices.

He received a bachelor's degree and his medical degree from the University of Michigan. He also completed his residency in otolaryngology — the area of medicine that deals with conditions of the ear, nose, and throat — and a fellowship in otology, neurotology and skull base surgery at the school.

Colleagues at Hopkins said that in 1993 he launched the Listening Center, blending scientific research and patient care. He treated numerous patients with cochlear implantation and used an array of techniques for rehabilitation.

A 1993 Baltimore Sun article described the cochlear implant: "Sounds picked up by a microphone are sent to a processor — a box worn at the waist. The processor codes them electronically and sends them to a transmitter behind the ear, then through the skin to a receiver.

"Implanted under the scalp ... behind the ear, the receiver forwards the signals through wires into the cochlea, part of the inner ear. From there, the signals are sent through the auditory nerve to the brain, where they can be recognized."

Heather Whitestone McCallum, who was crowned Miss America in 1995, was described as the first holder of the title to have a disability. A 2006 Sun article about her said her hearing was damaged by a childhood infection.

Dr. Niparko treated her with her first cochlear implant, in her right ear, in 2002. In 2006, when she lost total hearing in the left ear, she returned to Johns Hopkins.

"Suddenly, I misunderstood what people were saying to me," she said in the Sun article. "People had to struggle to communicate with me."

In 2013, Dr. Niparko left Hopkins and joined the University of Southern California, where he headed the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery and the USC Caruso Family Center for Childhood Communication.

"John was an amazing guy — he was unique. He was a consummate gentleman," said a colleague, Dr. Rick A. Friedman, professor of otolaryngology at the Keck Medical Center in Los Angeles. "He put his patients and his academic pursuits before anything. He was loyal, compassionate, funny and the most driven guy I have ever met."

Dr. Niparko was a past president of the American Otological Society, and the recipient of the Deafness Research Foundation's 2001 Hearing Research Award.

He was a member of the council of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. He wrote numerous scientific articles and was editor of the Journal of Otology & Neurotology.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. May 10 at the University of Southern California's health sciences campus in Los Angeles.

Survivors include his wife, Angela; two sons, Nathan Niparko and Kevin Niparko, both of Los Angeles; a brother, Steven Niparko of Denver; and a sister, Nancy Niparko of Los Angeles.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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