Rick J. Caruso and his wife, Tina

USC Trustee Rick J. Caruso and his wife, Tina, have donated $25 million to name the USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. (Photo/courtesy of the Caruso family)

Business leader and USC Trustee Rick J. Caruso and his wife, Tina, have donated $25 million to endow and name the USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, one of the nation’s largest and most highly ranked for research and treatment of diseases of the ear, nose and throat.

The Carusos’ exceptionally generous gift also names and endows the department’s affiliated treatment center for young children with severe hearing loss. This funding for the USC Caruso Family Center for Childhood Communication will enable the center to expand its leadership as the region’s top resource for testing and therapies that enable children to hear.

The USC Caruso Department serves patients facing a range of conditions affecting the head and neck, such as cancer, thyroid disease, facial paralysis, chronic sinusitis and tumors of the cranial base. As a key program within the Department, the Caruso Family Center’s life-changing technologies and services allow children to experience sounds—from their parents’ voices to music, laughter and nature—often for the very first time.

For the Caruso family, these advances carry great personal significance. With a daughter impacted by hearing loss at birth, the Carusos have experienced first-hand the challenges of early-onset hearing loss. Inspired by their experiences, the family has steadfastly supported pioneering research, health care and education. With this gift, Rick and Tina Caruso build on that legacy of support, and align this specific philanthropic focus with the research and treatment advances taking place at USC.

“This gift reflects the Caruso family’s far-reaching and passionate commitment to USC,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “As benefactors, Rick and Tina Caruso inspire so many throughout Los Angeles and our nation, and we should all warmly applaud their philanthropic vision, their dedication to medical discovery, and the profound breadth of their generosity.”

Rick Caruso, a highly respected business and community leader, is the founder and chief executive officer of one of the nation’s largest, privately held real estate companies, Caruso Affiliated. The company’s holdings include The Grove, The Americana at Brand, The Commons at Calabasas, The Promenade at Westlake, Waterside at Marina del Rey and 8500 Burton Way, among others. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree with honors from the USC Marshall School of Business and joined the USC Board of Trustees in 2007. He serves in several leadership positions with the USC board, including chairing the board’s personnel committee, and serves on the executive, development and campus planning committees. He also serves on the board of councilors for the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.

The Caruso’s teenage daughter, Gianna, was born with mild to moderate hearing loss, and doctors and therapists have worked closely with her ever since. Although Gianna could hear some sounds with assistance, she relied on reading lips to ensure she understood what was being said. This presented challenges in daily life, including in the classroom. This all changed as Gianna experienced a miracle last year, Caruso said, when she saw the team of USC doctors who provided her with a new highly sensitive hearing device that was inserted into her ear canal.

“The minute the hearing device went in, there was a huge difference. Gianna immediately started crying—all of us started crying,” Caruso said. “It was a life changer.”

“It is so profound how hearing loss affects everything in your life,” Caruso said. “I still can’t fully appreciate all of the challenges, even though I saw Gianna live with it every day. And it also was what she was missing—she had never heard a bird chirping before receiving this device.

“There have been some profound moments for our family, like a few months ago, when it rained in L.A., we were sitting at home watching a movie and she said, ‘Dad and Mom, I hear rain outside.’ I said, ‘Yeah, it’s raining.’

“She said, ‘No, Dad. I hear the rain.’”

That’s the promise and the potential to impact lives, Caruso says.

Caruso said he believes that with the endowment, USC has the potential to help thousands of children, perhaps millions of people who have suffered hearing loss to hear for the first time, or to ultimately cure hearing loss altogether. Gianna plans to work with kids at the Center as well.

“We’ve been very fortunate in our lives,” Caruso said. “This is obviously a very personal mission for us. It has affected Gianna in so many difficult ways, but it also has been a blessing in many ways. It’s made our family sensitive to so many needs of others, and we have been inspired by Gianna’s courage and successes.”

“This gift is going to help kids that wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to afford these technologies or have access to this level of health care,” he said.

The Caruso name is already well known in USC life. The couple’s latest gift builds on a broad legacy of support to USC that spans nearly four decades and includes more than $35 million in philanthropic gifts. Their previous naming gift established the USC Caruso Catholic Center, and was the lead gift to build the Center and Our Savior Parish Church, which provide spiritual support for many USC students.

Through the Caruso Family Foundation, the family has focused on education and healthcare causes that improve the lives of children.

About the USC Caruso Department

The USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery ranks among the top 10 nationwide in federal research funding. Its research, training and patient care focus on the wide range of conditions affecting the head and neck.

The department is led by John K. Niparko, the holder of the Leon J. Tiber and David S. Alpert Chair in Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. He is an internationally renowned otoneurologic surgeon and researcher recruited to USC in 2012 from The Johns Hopkins University. A national expert on hearing technologies, Niparko has built USC’s otolaryngology group into one of the nation’s finest, recruiting 44 outstanding researchers from around the country and spearheading a long-running national clinical trial of treatments for children with hearing loss.

The Carusos’ endowment support will bolster the depth of the department’s research and help expand treatment options for hearing loss—the third most-common diagnosis affecting mankind, behind arthritis and hypertension. About 30 million Americans suffer hearing loss of varying severity.

With regional and national recruits, Niparko founded and directs the newly named USC Caruso Family Center for Childhood Communication. The center assists more than 5,000 children and their families who are coping with hearing conditions and disease. Profound hearing loss affects one in every 1,000 children at birth, and one in 500 by age five.

”Early intervention is critical to ensure that children with hearing loss develop their speech and language skills,” Niparko explained. “There is an early window of opportunity when sound exposure empowers a child to learn to comprehend and connect information from speech and the environment. Tina and Rick Caruso have a profound understanding of these concerns and are compassionate believers in the importance of this work. Generations of children will bear the imprint of their generosity.”

“Hearing loss is a shared disability. And one thing that we have learned from the Caruso family is that digital hearing devices are responsive and nimble devices that restore tonal hearing. But when paired with the awareness and support of family and friends, the results can be extraordinary,” Niparko said.

Niparko and Rick A. Friedman, a leader in treatment of acoustic neuromas and one of the nation’s top ear surgeons, oversee patient care at the USC Caruso Family Center.

The Carusos’ gift will help expand the center’s services through the establishment of satellite clinics, expanded educational programs, professional training opportunities and an effort to raise public awareness of hearing-related disease and conditions.

Much like the Caruso Family Foundation, which supports organizations that improve the lives of children while advancing health care and education, the USC Caruso Department and Center operate in tandem to assist families from the region and around the world, regardless of financial circumstances.

USC Caruso Center experts offer novel interventions to help children use their restored hearing to further develop their language and literacy skills. The center’s audiologists, educators and speech and language therapists provide children and their families with training and educational outreach that take hearing technologies to their fullest potential. Those services include expertise in pediatric cochlear implants, bimodal fittings, and the effects of multilingualism on speech and language development of children who have cochlear implants.

Although the cochlear implantation has become the standard of care for deafness and advanced levels of hearing loss, Niparko notes that researchers are looking beyond that technology for advances in areas such as stem cell therapies. He and others believe there may be a way to prompt, through a biologic treatment utilizing stem cells, the regeneration of hair cells within the inner ear that are critical for sensitive hearing.

“We are on a path of triggering reprogrammed cells to undergo a metamorphosis—a sort of caterpillar to butterfly change that can resupply the ear with the cellular machinery needed to recover hearing,” Niparko said.

Achieving a biological breakthrough for treatment of hearing loss would rank among the greatest and most enduring legacies of the Caruso family’s gift.

The Carusos’ generous gift further advances The Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multiyear effort that seeks to raise $6 billion or more in private philanthropy to advance USC’s academic priorities and expand its positive impact on the community and world. Just four and a half years after its launch, the campaign has raised more than $4.2 billion.