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Doctor humbled by New Year honour

Last updated 13:45 08/01/2009
AMELIA JACOBSEN/Suburbans
DEDICATED DOCTOR: Dr Ron Goodey has helped the deaf community for more than 40 years, with his wife Lesley at his side.

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For an ear, nose and throat specialist who has helped many of his 50,000 patients, gain or regain their hearing, Dr Ron Goodey is a humble man.

His initial reaction when being made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to otolaryngology in the New Year honours was embarrassment.

The Remuera resident says receiving the letter came as quite a shock.

"Then I saw the level of it and I was kind of upset about it because it’s quite high. It seemed to put me in with groups of people I didn’t feel I belonged alongside. I put it in a drawer for three weeks."

But his reaction gradually turned to quiet pride.

"You know an awful lot of people you respect must have said something in support of it and that’s quite humbling."

In his 50 years in medicine Dr Goodey has pioneered cochlear implant – or bionic ear – surgery, was instrumental in establishing a database of deaf children in the Auckland region and set up New Zealand’s first ear, nose and throat medical and surgical training programme.

The 70-year-old says the the highlights are working with people and "usually being able to help them".

"To watch the face of somebody who has been deaf and then heard for the first time, that’s real tear-jerking stuff. It’s magic."

He says it’s hard to put a finger on one highlight.

"At the time, each thing seems like it’s the most important," he says. "When we did the first bionic ear in New Zealand, that was where I really wanted to go. But once we did bionic ears in children we became frustrated that there was nowhere to actually teach the children how to use them."

That led to the founding of the Hearing House, an organisation that teaches children who have been given bionic ears how to communicate.

"It’s a wonderful facility where children and families are taught despite not ever having heard before. The aim is that they’ll start school with better language than their peers. And that’s amazing."

Dr Goodey says his wife of 47 years, Lesley, can take much of the credit.

The pair met when they were teenagers and have been inseparable since. They both studied at Otago University.

When Dr Goodey had to choose a topic for his public health thesis, he was inspired by Mrs Goodey’s father, who was the headmaster at the school for deaf in Titirangi.

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"I thought, I’ll do it on deaf people and he can write it for me," he joked.

"I visited the homes of deaf children in Dunedin and got incensed by how difficult it was for them."

From then on, it was his destiny, he says. He moved to Auckland and had already decided to specialise in ear, nose and throat surgery, and was allowed to scrub in on surgeries.

He had planned to be a doctor before he went to primary school, but says if he hadn’t met his wife and her family, he wouldn’t have specialised in deafness.

Likewise, Mrs Goodey glows with pleasure when she talks of her husband’s achievements.

"You just do things for others because you know they’re right and you don’t actually think about anything else," she says.

"I always feel rather pleased because dad always said there’d be a time when someone could restore hearing. He came close to seeing it happen."

She has also served as president of the National Foundation for the Deaf, and continues to be a trustee.

Dr Goodey is now kept busy with facilitating the Deafness Research Foundation, of which he has been president for 20 years. He also chairs the board of directors of the Tinnitus Research Initiative which is based in Europe.

"If we can develop complete cures for deafness and tinnitus in the next 15 years, then I'll retire happy," he says.

- East And Bays Courier

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