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Gifford lands clinical achievement award from ASHA

Dec. 10, 2015, 9:22 AM

René Gifford, Ph.D., associate professor of Hearing and Speech Sciences, received the 2015 Louis M. DiCarlo Award for Recent Clinical Achievement from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) at the group’s national convention, which was held last month in Denver.

René Gifford, Ph.D.

Gifford was chosen from among winners of state clinical achievement awards for work that, according to her nomination, has “significantly changed and improved the field of cochlear implants,” surgically-implanted electronic devices that restore hearing to people with severe to profound hearing loss.

Gifford, director of the Cochlear Implant Research Laboratory as well as associate director of the Cochlear Implant Program and Implant Auditory Technologies in the Department of Hearing and Speech Sciences, was part of an interdisciplinary team of Vanderbilt scientists who developed a revolutionary new way of programming cochlear implants that has resulted in significant improvements in patients’ understanding of speech. A Vanderbilt study showed that 72 percent of people participating preferred the new programming method over their previous program.

“Helping people hear and achieve levels of communication they never thought possible has been a goal of mine for a very long time,” Gifford said. “I was raised by my grandparents and my grandfather, James Costello, was a World War II veteran, Purple Heart recipient, and also someone who lived his entire post-war life with significant hearing loss.

“His hearing loss was such that he was a terrible hearing aid candidate most of his life and cochlear implants were simply not an option for someone without profound deafness until very recently. In fact, I learned from a very early age that communication difficulty can be devastating to one’s life and even the lives of those around him.

“He is the reason that I am an audiologist today and though I was unable to help him achieve better hearing during his lifetime, I find myself dedicating my clinical practice to him. I know that my grandfather would have been especially proud of this achievement. Thus it is a tremendous honor to receive the 2015 DiCarlo award for recent clinical achievement.”

The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) has funded Gifford’s research for more than 10 years. Her research focuses on combined electric and acoustic hearing including basic auditory function, spatial hearing and speech perception. She has more than 60 peer-reviewed papers and is the author of the book “Cochlear Implant Patient Assessment: Evaluation of Candidacy, Performance, and Outcomes.”

“Dr. Gifford is one of those unique and talented individuals who is able to balance an incredibly productive research agenda and clinical practice,” said Anne Marie Tharpe, Ph.D., professor and chair of Hearing and Speech Sciences and associate director of the Vanderbilt Bill Wilkerson Center. “Her patients, students and colleagues alike benefit from her exemplary dedication to those with hearing loss.”

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