Dr. Hiroshi Shimizu, an otolaryngologist and audiologist who had been director of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Hearing and Speech Center, died Sept. 15 of myeloproliferative disorder, a blood disorder, at Stella Maris Hospice in Timonium.
The longtime Lutherville resident was 87.
The son of a businessman and a homemaker, Dr. Shimizu was born and raised in Kyoto, Japan.
Dr. Shimizu earned his medical degree in 1949 and a master's of science degree in 1955, both from Kyoto Prefectural University.
He completed a one-year residency in 1958 at Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles, and from 1958 to 1960, was a resident and research fellow in otolaryngology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
He returned to Kyoto in 1960 and taught at the Prefectural University until 1963. He then returned to Hopkins as an assistant professor and later associate professor in 1967, in the medical school and the old Johns Hopkins School of Health and Public Hygiene, now part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
In 1967, Dr. Shimizu became the second director of the Hearing and Speech Center at Hopkins that had been established by Dr. John Bordley and Dr. William G. Hardy and his wife, Dr. Miriam P. Hardy, in 1947.
Dr. Shimizu and his colleagues agreed to merge hearing and speech sciences with electrical engineering in a novel approach to hearing impairment, which led to broad pioneering advances in enabling patients to produce adequate speech based on enhanced hearing.
It was Dr. Shimizu in the late 1960s who proposed that newborn babies could have their hearing tested using the auditory brainstem response, or ABR, and was most likely the first clinician to perform ABR testing on a newborn using electrophysiology, according to Dr. John K. Niparko, a surgeon who is interim director of Hopkins' department of otolaryngology.
"This testing using electrophysiology measures the changes in brain waves to see whether the child could hear or not," said Dr. James M. McDonald, an audiologist, who works at the Hearing and Assessment Center in Baltimore and had studied with Dr. Shimizu.
This pioneering research formed the foundation for the development of the neonatal hearing screening program that was implemented by the State of Maryland in 1988.
Other research under the aegis of Dr. Shimizu led to the development of procedures and response criteria to assess hearing of difficult-to-test patients, particularly infants, and multi-handicapped children.
"On the subject of early hearing loss, Dr. Shimizu brought a pioneering awareness of the use of electrophysiology to patients. It was a new approach and a breakthrough. He was a giant," said Dr. Niparko.
"It was a revolutionary approach because it gave us the opportunity to repair the situation when you know that is exists early on in a child," said Dr. Niparko. "He believed in the use of new tools."
In an e-mail to his staff announcing Dr. Shimizu's death, Dr. Niparko described his colleague as a "brilliant audiologist with advanced skills in electrophysiolology."
"He once remarked to me how surprised he was to read the first report of ABR screening in the newborn nursery some years after he had begun using the technique," Dr. Niparko wrote in the email.
"He was just a model for many of us. He was a great teacher and all of his students have been successful. And audiology was his passion," said Dr. McDonald.
"Dr. Shimizu was a quiet and unassuming man. He was also a generous man. He'd give you as much time as you wanted. Whenever you came into his office, he'd drop what he was doing and listen to you," he said. "He was a kind, gentle soul, who never sought the limelight. He was always willing to share everything."
Throughout his career at Hopkins, Dr. Shimizu continued seeing patients.
"They just loved him because he was so kind and gentle to everyone. He was a man who cared about his work and doing it well," said Dr. McDonald.
"Dr. Shimizu was so humble that he actively avoided recognition for his accomplishments. He simply didn't want the credit for it," said Dr. Niparko. "And at the end of the day, he felt, it wasn't about egos but the patients."
Even though he retired in 1991, Dr. Shimizu continued to go to Hopkins and kept up with developments in the field of otolaryngology and audiology, colleagues said.
He was instrumental in the founding of the American Auditory Society.
Dr. Shimizu's work earned him honors from the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, American Auditory Society and Maryland Academy of Audiology. He was chosen "a hero of public health" in 1991 by what is now the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"Classical music was a major passion," said his son, Yoji Shimizu of Edina, Minn. "He was a supporter of Baltimore Choral Arts Society."
Dr. Shimizu was also an avid gardener and bird watcher.
He was a member of St. John's United Methodist Church, 216 W. Seminary Ave., Lutherville, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday.
In addition to his son, Dr. Shimizu is survived by his wife of 59 years, the former Tokuko Tokunaga; and four grandchildren. His daughter, Keiko Walker, died in 2003.
Dr. Hiroshi Shimizu
Pioneered use of electrophysiology in testing hearing of newborns
Dr. Hiroshi Shimizu (Baltimore Sun / September 24, 2011)