In January, the hearing care field lost two 90-something pioneers in audiology, as well as a fairly young industry inventor. John Duffy, PhD, died of a series of strokes at age 93 after suffering a fall late last year. Duffy was a sometimes-controversial figure in the New York hearing care scene. He was a fierce champion of amplification and spoken-language educational programs for infants and children with severe and profound hearing impairment, rarely mincing words about opposing viewpoints. Starting his career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the 1930’s, Duffy was a student of Robert West, PhD, and was actually there to see Rayovac engineer Arthur Wengel—the inventor of the first portable electronic hearing aid in the US—demonstrate his new devices. Duffy’s doctoral dissertation in 1948 involved, with the help of the engineer Samuel Lybarger, the development of a surgically implantable bone-conduction plate that was embedded over the mastoid process, an early prototype of today’s bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA). After a rubella epidemic hit the Northeast during the 1960’s, he was among the first audiologists to place hearing aids on infants, and he helped to develop a rehabilitation program for them. He was also a leading authority on industrial hearing conservation. Duffy taught at Brooklyn College for 34 years and was a mentor to many prominent audiologists, including HR Editorial Advisory Board Member Maurice H. Miller, PhD. “He introduced and pioneered the profession of audiology in the NYC area,” says Miller, “and was my first professor of audiology…A unique, colorful, intuitive, master clinician, he could relate easily, comfortably and immediately to patients of all ages with a wide variety of communicative disorders. He mentored my career at Brooklyn College and Lenox Hill Hospital and taught me the importance of doing all that was necessary to achieve intelligible speech and age-appropriate language in children with hearing impairment of all degrees. For all he has done for me personally and professionally and for his influence on generations of students, we who were the beneficiaries of his extraordinary clinical talents grieve at his loss while we celebrate a productive and truly meaningful professional and personal life.”

Earnest Zelnick, PhD, was also a well-known and influential NYC-area audiologist who died in January. He was 91. Zelnick started his career as a lawyer, but became interested in the hearing care field while running a medical supply company. He started taking classes in amplification, and received a master’s degree in audiology from Brooklyn College, and a PhD from City University of New York. Because he already owned a dispensing office—this in an era when dispensing hearing aids by audiologists was considered “unethical”—it’s possible that Zelnick was the first audiologist, or at least among the first, to dispense hearing aids full time in the United States. He was an early advocate of binaural amplification, and his 1970 paper on the subject in the Journal of Auditory Research is thought by some to be a landmark in the dispensing literature. He also authored the authoritative 1987 NIHIS textbook, Hearing Instruments—Selection and Evaluation.

Dick Vessella died unexpectedly during the past month at the too-young age of 53. Vessella, along with John Maidhof, started the concept of the “jodi-vac” hearing instrument cleaning and maintenance device in 1997. This important tool, and others like it, have been used by thousands of consumers and dispensing professionals to reduce the incidence of hearing aid repairs. A hearing instrument specialist for 25 years, Vessella held a BC-HIS certificate and dispensing license in Washington and Oregon, and also served as a consultant to state regulatory bodies. He was “a regular” at industry conventions and events, was a talented jazz musician, and was known for his intelligence, warmth, and humor.

All three men periodically contributed articles and materials to HR. Vessella’s and Duffy’s obituaries appear in this month’s Industry Personalities, and Zelnick’s will appear in next month’s edition of HR.

Karl Strom
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