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July 3, 2003

Doctor from Ark City gets nation's ear

From: - Jul 3, 2003

Traveler Staff Writer

Dr. John Dornhoffer, an Arkansas City native and 1980 graduate of Ark City High School, appeared last Thursday (June 26) on NBC's "Today Show," to discuss his work with cochlear implants for hearing-impaired children.

Dornhoffer, 40, an associate professor and director of neurotology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Ark., was interviewed by "Today Show" co-anchor Matt Lauer.

The interview had video footage of Dornhoffer working with hearing-impaired children who had received cochlear implants. Dornhoffer had performed the implants on these children. Overall, he has performed more than 200 implants.

"Most kids start to put words together around 10 months to a year old," Dornhoffer said in the interview. "So if they get an implant early, they end up only a few months behind their peers in speech."

The earlier hearing-impaired children get the cochlear implant, the quicker they can learn speech, and the more normally they will be able to speak, he added. The implants are put in the cochlea, or spiral part of the inner ear, to bypass damaged sensory hairs and carry sound impulses to the auditory nerve.

Lauer pointed out that Dornhoffer, who himself developed a severe hearing impairment as an adult, "combines a little doctoring with personal experience -- it's a powerful tool."

According to Lauer, 28 million people in the country suffer from hearing loss. Of these, roughly 20,000 have the implant, which was developed in 1985 for adults and later was approved for children.

Dornhoffer is world-renowned for developing procedures and techniques for hearing reconstruction, said his mother, Barbara Dornhoffer, of Arkansas City. He has designed several prostheses to replace the tiny bones of the middle ear.

Last November, Barbara Dornhoffer attended a ceremony in which her son was awarded the Samuel D. McGill, Jr., Endowed Chair in Otolaryngology Research.

"It was marvelous," she said. "It was quite nice to see my son as recipient of such a high academic honor, and he said he would use this research money to help people. It was humbling. How good God has been to John. How blest he has been to been given this talent.

From a very young age, Dornhoffer wanted to be a doctor. "He used to sit on the back porch and operate on bugs," his mother said. "He wanted to be a surgeon from about 5 or 6 years old.

"John was a very disciplined child. I can remember when he went away to college he told me 'Everybody goes to have fun. I'll have a little fun, but I've got to make straight A's if I want to get into medical school.'"

Dornhoffer was valedictorian of his high school class here. He completed undergraduate studies at Benedictine College in Atchison, then attended the University of Kansas Medical School, from which he received his medical degree.

He completed his residency training at UAMS in otolaryngology (a medical specialty concerned especially with ear, nose and throat). "When he got out of medical school he started out to become a plastic surgeon," his mother said, "then he went into the intricate ear work."

Dornhoffer followed the residency with fellowship training in neurotology and skull base surgery at the Ear Center in Wuerzburg, Germany, and at the University of Zurich, Switzerland.

"He learned German before he went," Barbara Dornhoffer said.

Others in the Dornhoffer family have worked in the medical field. Dr. Dornhoffer's late father, Richard, was an anesthetist at South Central Kansas Regional Medical Center, and his brother David, who followed in his father's footsteps, now serves as anesthetist at SCKRMC.

His mother Barbara has served as a medical technologist.

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