Founder, Otopathology Laboratory


Dr. Michael Paparella was born in Detroit, Michigan as the youngest of four children, Josephine (married to an engineer), Anthony (a university architect), and Elsie (married to a college professor). Dr. Paparella’s parents both arrived from Italy in their late teens. His father, Vincenzo Paparella, was from Corato, a small farm town near Bari, Italy on the Adriatic coast. His mother was from Castella de Sangro in the province and mountains of Abruzzi near Rome. Dr. Paparella’s father had only a few months of formal education but as a remarkably self-educated individual as he owned his own successful business, did a variety of other jobs and actually, over a period of time, was a protestant preacher. They thus grew up in the Italian Gospel Hall which preached a form of strict Protestantism although Dr. Paparella is ecumenical and tolerant of all religions. All of his mother’s brothers were college graduates, mostly engineers, in Italy.

Dr. Paparella received outstanding grades throughout his educations and was elected president of his elementary (Harris) and middle school (Barber) graduating classes and came in second to being President of his high school graduating class. He attended Cass Technical High School, the only college preparatory school in Michigan and went to school each day by taking two streetcars, a bus, and then walking to school. He was also valedictorian. At an early age besides scholastics, he was very interested in music and art. He played the trumpet and sang and won all-city awards in art and music in Detroit, Michigan. In fact, he participated in a band that was earning income in the fifth grade. This prompted him to ask his father is he could become first an artist and later asked if he could become a musician to which his father provided the same directive counseling answer-“Shut up, you are going to become a doctor.” There were no M.D. role models in the family but since Dr. Paparella didn’t know netter, he simply did what his father told him to do and has been grateful ever since.

Dr. Paparella was always active in sports (all-city in tennis in high school) and played football, basketball and baseball with the “guys” in the ghetto-type neighborhood. Most of the guys ended up in factories, a few in prisons. Two went to college, Dr. Paparella and his brother, Anthony. Three of his buddies made it in the major leagues, including Joe Altobelli), manager of the 1983 World Series-Baltimore Orioles) who broke Dr. Paparella’s finger when he, Dr. Paparella, was catching in an American Legion game. The Gaylord’s became famous in the 50’s having had number one songs in the top forty during the 50’s and later.

Dr. Paparella’s first exposure to medicine was when he worked as an orderly at Harper Hospital at the age of fifteen. This was a scary experience as he had to prepare patients who were deceased to enter the morgue, but nevertheless he persevered. Dr. Paparella then went to the University of Michigan at the age of 16 on a scholastic scholarship and earned most of his expenses with band and other jobs. The band played approximately four jobs each week. He did other various menial jobs including factory work in a variety of factories in Detroit especially during summer breaks, including having worked at a brewery for two years. During his undergraduate years, he was a member Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity. Dr. Paparella also took his medical school training at the University of Michigan and finished in 1957. During medical school he was a member of the Alpha Kappa Kappa fraternity, he then interned at Emmanuel Hospital in Portland, Oregon and returned for residency training at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit where he also served as a member of the staff. His main mentor was Dr. Harold Schuknecht who in 1961 was appointed Professor and Chairman at Harvard University. Dr. Paparella completed his tenure at Henry Ford Hospital in 1961 and Schuknecht wanted him to sign a five year contract to be a member of the faculty at Harvard University. Instead Dr. Paparella was obligated to serve in the United States Army and was sent to Germany for two years where he was the first otologist in the military and all of Europe, to do microscopic ear surgery when it was a new innovative field  between 1961 and 1963. While he was in Europe he attended many universities giving lectures at some of the most famous universities and with some of the pioneers of otology throughout Europe. Afterwards, he did join Harold Schuknecht on the staff at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and as a member of the faculty at Harvard University. In 1964, he was recruited to be the first otologist and to initiate research at the Ohio State University.  His first independent fellow at that time was Dr. David Lim who has become a world renowned researcher in the field of otology.

In 1967, Dr Paparella was asked by a large and distinguished search committee to become Professor and Chairman of the distinguished Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota. He was 33 years old at that time and the youngest chairman of any department, let alone a major department.

He established an Otopathology Laboratory in 1964 at Ohio State, he established a new Otopathology Laboratory in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota which has become one of the largest and most productive to date.

During his tenure as Professor and Chairman he had many leadership roles in the medical school including being the first Chairman of the Council of Sciences and later Chairman of the Council of Clinical Chiefs. He initiated three telethons, and with the assistance of others raised several million dollars to develop the first Lion’s International Hearing Center in the Phillips Wangsteen building at the University of Minnesota. As Principal Investigator, he initiated the first project grant sponsored by the NIH dedicated to pathogenesis of otitis media, and one of the first major grants to study mechanisms of sensorineural hearing loss. He also attracted other grants incluind various research grants and training grants which amounted to many millions of dollars to help support the department. He also added many new faculty to a small number, so that when he departed from the University there were in excess of 20 full time faculty members including basic scientists which did not exist hitherto.

He encouraged the faculty who supported him in creating the first required graduate program for residents in the United States. This meant that residents who entered the program were obligated to acquire a master’s degree or a PhD in the graduate school. The purpose of this was to provide a mechanism so that they would not only become very good doctors but would spend and dedicate their lives to research and education to help create new knowledge and to help many others in the process.

He has always been active with the National Institutes of Health, and besides receiving many grants of various types from NIH as well as other granting agencies, he has served on all the peer review committees of NIH and on the Council of the National Institutes of Neurological Diseases, Communicative Disorders, and Stroke.

His major interest in clinical otology, neurotology, and otopathology, and his expertise has been temporal bone pathology. He now directs an otopathology laboratory at the University of Minnesota, which contains one of the largest collections of tempora bone specimens in the world. Dr. Paparella has received many honors from many institutions and universities in the United States and throughout the world. He belongs to numerous professional societies including the Collegium Oto-rhino-laryngologicum Amicitiae Sacrum which only allows up to 10 leading members of each country to become members worldwide. For many years he has served as a member of the American Board of Otolaryngology. He has served as Founder, President, and officer of a variety of national societies.

At the end of 1984, Dr. Paparella became Clinical Professor and Chairman Emeritus of the Department of otolaryngology and established the Minnesota Ear, Head and Neck Clinic. He continues to direct the Otopathology Laboratory at the University, and in 1985 he established the International Hearing Foundation, dedicated to research, education, and service. The International Hearing foundation (IHF) has provided services and education to many doctors throughout the world, particularly including patients in need in this area. Its primary purpose has always been to support the Otopathology research at the University of Minnesota. The Minnesota Ear, Head and Neck clinic is attached to, and a part of the Fairview University Medical Center. Dr. Paparella has trained several hundred otolaryngologists and researchers from the United States and from the rest of the world. He trained a number of students who have entered academic fields of otolaryngology, including 29 professors and chairmen in the United States and in other countries such as Japan and Brazil. Under the auspices of the IHF, he continues, with his associates, to train clinical fellows and research fellows who then return to their communities and universities to help teach others to participate in research and to help patients in new and improved ways. Dr. Paparella’s previous students from other countries have established foundations similar to the IHF and continue to provide much in the way of charitable services, including free surgical procedures, hearing aids, research and education in their respective countries. For example, a large and active foundation in Brazil is called the “Fundação Paparella”. In addition, previous students of Dr. Paparella, Dr. de Sousa and Dr. Marcello Piza have established, for example, the Clinica Paparella in the city of Ribeirao Preto in Brazil.

Dr. Paparella has received numerous honors including the award of merit from the ontological society in 1998, which is one of the most important awards in the field. Dr. Paparella has been the author of approximately 60 books and almost 600 publications to date. He has served as editor of many journals. He initiated the four-volume textbook which was the number one textbook used throughout the world, including three volumes, one on basic sciences, another on otology, and the third on head and neck. The basic science volume was the first one in any specialized field of medicine to dedicate a separate book to basic sciences, and this concept was well received throughout the world by various students of otolaryngology. He also has developed the first Atlas of Otology and several other atlases demonstrating surgical techniques and has been editor of the Yearbook of Otolaryngology for the past several decades.

Besides the above honors, he has received many honors worldwide (from Japan, Brazil, Hlland, Korea, France, Portugal, Chile, Italy, etc). His 40+ years of active contributions include Dr. Paparella’s membership in the Collegium Oto-Rhino-Laryngologicum, listing in the “Best of Medicine” and “The Best Doctor’s in America”, and a dozen large grants including two large program grants for the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Minnesota, which continues to this day, membership on the Boards of the Better Hearing Institute, Deafness Research Foundation, and the Council and various sub committees and review committees of the National Institute for Deafness and Communicative Disorders, and the Association of Academic Department of Otolaryngology, the last two of which he served as a special consultant during their institution, as well as other boards. Besides service on 67 Community and governmental committees, he is a member of 32 medical/otolaryngologic societies, having served as the President of the Society of Academic Chairmen, Vice President of the Triological, officer of other societies, and remains active on many subcommittees and task forces. In 1993, during the Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery, he was recognized for his years of service to the profession with a special awards ceremony attended by more than 500 individuals, including leaders in the profession. Of more than four dozen special awards and honors, The Award of Merit received from the Otological society in 1998 is considered one of the most significant nes. He was also the Honored Guest at the Starkey Gala in 2003, along with Arnold Palmer and Larry King.

As mentioned, Dr. Paparella developed the Otopathology Laboratory at the University of Minnesota, which is the largest in the world in terms of archival human and animal temporal bone specimens. His areas of research interest have been and continue to be otopathology and pathogenesis of ontological diseases. Special areas of emphasis, study, and contributions center on pathogenesis of otitis media and Meniere’s disease. In the area of pathogenesis of otitis media, many studies (basic and clinical) have led to, for example – 1) an understanding of the continuum of otitis media; 2) middle ear/inner ear interaction; 3) chronic silent otitis media. These studies have led to improved methods of diagnosing and conservatively treating otitis media, for example through development of the flexible surgical approach for the otitis media continuum and the intact bridge tympanomastoidectomy (IBM), a one-stage procedure which optimizes both the open and closed methods.

Dr. Paparella continues to have an interest in music, art, tennis, sports, and literally everything including his filed of otology/neurotology. He continues to have an active practice in otology/neurotology based on research and education, and many new methods of diagnosis and treatment of troublesome otologic problems have resulted from his continuing interest in and dedication to pathogenesis, a focus that incorporates concepts of etiology as well as of mechanisms that lead to the pathological end-state. Thus, his treatment, teaching, and research emphasize not only the pathology attendant on the patient’s symptoms and clinically documented findings, but also the entire perspective of the pathogenesis of the disorder, including etiologic factors and its mechanisms. Many thousands of patients in the United States and elsewhere with incapacitating dizziness, deafness and other complicated ear diseases have had their function and “lives” restored as result of these efforts. To simply sum up – Dr. Paparella’s life and practice philosophy is “to give is a privilege and more blessed than to receive”.

Dr. Paparella is very proud of his three children – Mark, Steve, and Lisa. Mark has two children. Laura and Ben, and Dr. Paparella is very proud of those two grandchildren as well, who are fine young citizens excelling in school and in community activities. He also is very proud and appreciative of Treva – the love and light of his life – and her extended family.

The older Dr. Paparella becomes, the prouder he is of his roots and Italian heritage. He has been to Italy many times and plans to visit Italy many more times in the future. Moreover, as the years pass by, Dr. Paparella believes more firmly in the principle that giving Is more blessed than receiving. He does this in a variety of ways, but especially emphasizing service to patients, education, and research.