If you had to choose between being deaf or blind, what would you choose?
For LMU alumnus William Luxford (BS '71), a doctor who specializes in improving hearing, the choice is obvious — and it’s been the inspiration for his life’s work.
Luxford has an intimate understanding of deafness: His mother was hearing-impaired. She was, he says, “an oral deaf person — she never used sign language, [and] we never used sign language at home.”
Luxford considers hearing loss more limiting to people than blindness, because it restricts the ability to communicate more than does the loss of sight. “Sound allows us to have a better attachment to our world than vision does,” he explains.
Luxford helps hearing-impaired people through the use of cochlear implants — small devices placed deep in the ear that stimulate the auditory nerves and that can enable people to hear, sometimes with a great degree of subtlety. Initially controversial among hearing-impaired and deaf people, cochlear implants are more accepted nowadays, he says.
Luxford is medical administrator for the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles, and he serves as medical director for the Children’s Center at House Ear Institute, which focuses on research and education. Luxford joined the House organization in 1980, after completing medical school at USC and a residency at LAC+USC Medical Center. Working at the House institute was an auspicious place to start. William House, M.D., the brother of the institute’s founder, was a pioneer in cochlear implant technology. A House cochlear implant, in fact, was the first one approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1984.
Improving the hearing ability of patients is one of his greatest satisfactions, Luxford says. “You’re trying to improve one of their main abilities to reconnect to the world. It’s very rewarding, because you get to see the outcome. That’s what I like about it,” he explains.
Luxford attributes much of his success to his father and two professors who were present at a time of great need.
Luxford’s father, a chiropractor, passed away when Luxford was just a sophomore in high school. “Because of my father’s passing, I was a kid who went through everything — high school, college, medical school — on scholarships,” he says. Ironically, while pursuing a private scholarship to attend UCLA, Luxford met the financial director for Loyola, and something clicked for him. “At that moment, I went from being a Bruin to a Lion,” Luxford says.
Luxford says his father was a vital role model, despite his death when Luxford was young. But he also found two mentors in the university’s science department who were crucial influences: Carl Kadner and Thomas Pitts. Their impact wasn’t just through imparting knowledge; it was also through providing stability and continuity. “Both Dr. Kadner and Dr. Pitts were around the whole four years. Those are the two people who really pushed me,” Luxford explains.
Today, Luxford is proud to do his part as an alumnus to encourage bright, young people with financial need. “My big push is to get other alumni to start thinking about philanthropy and consider [supporting] a scholarship,” he says.
Asked if he has any closing bits of wisdom to impart to us, Luxford doesn’t miss a beat: “Don’t use Q-tips.”