Actor Richard Thomas: John Boy Lives With Hearing Loss
Time sure does fly. It seems only a few years back that we all enjoyed the extremely successful TV series, The Waltons. The stories were heartwarming, the characters real and the triumphs and tragedies of this All-American family became our own. You had to have a heart of coal not to love this show way back when.
So, get ready for a shocker. John Boy, the focus of The Waltons series is a grand-dad. In fact, hes got two grand kids. I thought he was swimmin down in the creek.
Today, actor Richard Thomas is still acting on stage and on TV. Surprisingly, he still looks a lot like his most famous role with boyish good looks and a sunny disposition. In an interview with The Star, Thomas said, It sort of feels like its someone else when I hear myself being called a grandfather, but its also a wonderful feeling because I love my grandkids so much.
Anybody else know that feeling? Today, at 57, Richard Thomas is feeling like a lot of us. It feels like this aging thing is happening to someone else even when you look in the mirror each morning and see one more gray hair or less hair altogether.
Thomas recently completed a stint as Juror #8, the role made famous by Henry Fonda in Twelve Angry Men. (If youve never seen the flick, stop by the local movie rental place and get a copy.) One of the all-time best movies ever. And Richard Thomas has the most coveted role in the drama the one holdout in a jury room who feels the defendant is innocent.
Its the role of a lifetime for any actor and the flick launched famed director Sydney Lumets career.
Then Theres This Thing Called Cochlear Otosclerosis
Tough to act when you cant hear your cues from the other actors. Healthy hearing is essential to the profession. But a condition called cochlear otosclerosis almost ended Thomas career a couple of decades back. When in his early 30s, Thomas was diagnosed with the condition after hed lost approximately one-half of his hearing.
"[Cochlear otosclerosis is] insidious and gradual. You find yourself in a restaurant nodding and smiling in agreement with someone and you haven't really heard a word," Thomas explained.
Fortunately for this respected Shakespearean-trained actor, whose trod the boards since he was seven-years-old, Thomas was diagnosed early enough to stop the progression of the disease, though the damage had already been done.
As a result, Richard Thomas became a spokesperson and national chairperson for the Better Hearing Institute and remains a strong advocate of raising awareness about a range of issues regarding hearing health.
"If it wasn't for the fact that I took action in time, I wouldn't be able to tour Twelve Angry Men through 19 different cities."
Thats the message for all of us right there. Take action early. As soon as you suspect hearing loss, its time for a trip to the hearing healthcare specialist.
What is Cochlear Otosclerosis?
Otosclerosis begins in the middle ear, ultimately fixating a small bone in the ear called the stapes (stirrup), one of three connected bones behind the ear drum that delivers sound waves to the cochlea through vibration. The cochlea is a fluid filled organ that translates sound waves into electrical impulses before forwarding them on to the brain for processing. The otosclerosis process usually causes a conductive hearing loss; however if untreated, it can invade the cochlea causing Cochlear Otosclerosis.
Dr. George Cire, the Clinical Manager for Bone Anchored Solutions at Cochlear Americas, explains in a Ask-the-Expert question on www.AudiologyOnline.com that, [This condition] will begin and usually is contained in the basal turn of the cochleaAs the disease invades the otic capsule a concomitant sensorineural [hearing] loss will appear. Break it down, the condition is usually confined to the middle ear, however can spread into the cochlea causing a more serious and permanent nerve hearing loss.
Although the cause of otosclerosis is unknown, research has shown it tends to run in families and may be hereditary. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Communication Disorders (NIDCD), on average, a person who has one parent with otosclerosis has a 25 percent chance of developing the disorder. If both parents have otosclerosis, the risk goes up to 50 percent. Research has also shown that white, middle-aged women are more at risk than others.
As Richard Thomas reported the symptoms of Otosclerosis may vary, often appearing gradually and unnoticed by the patient for some time. Common symptoms that may occur with the disease may include: gradual loss of hearing low-pitched sounds, dizziness or balance problems and/or tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
Dr. Cire states, Radiographic studies (high-resolution CT scans) may sometimes reveal the otosclerotic lesion. In non-technical terms, the condition leaves scarring that may be detected with a CT scan. However, depending on the degree of scarring caused by nerve deafness, the lesions (scars) may not be visible.
Is There a Treatment for Cochlear Otosclerosis?
There is no cure for Otosclerosis. The key to managing Otosclerosis is detecting the disease while it is still only affecting the middle ear, as surgery may be an option to correct any conductive hearing loss that may have occurred. According to Dr. Cire, once the disease has invaded the inner ear causing sensorineural hearing loss, the hearing loss can be managed slowed down through the use of a sodium fluoride regimen. This is used as an attempt to retard or prevent further sensorineural hearing loss. This treatment is not a cure but a management technique. And the sooner treatment begins, the higher the chances for success.
There are a number conditions or environmental factors that may cause the loss of hearing traumatic injury to the inner ear, excessive noise exposure, diseases like cochlear otoschlerosis and, lets not forget, age. Body parts wear out over time and the hearing mechanism is no different.
The take home message? Get your hearing tested, especially if you have noticed any sort of change in your ability to hear. And if Twelve Angry Men happens to tour your city, grab some tickets. Both Richard Thomas performance on stage and his advocacy for those with hearing loss deserve a big two thumbs up from this reviewer.