Dr. Novak earns 26th annual Physician Excellence Award

Dr. Michael Novak, cochlear implant pioneerFor 35 years, Michael Novak, MD, has practiced at Carle with a specific goal in mind. From the beginning, though, he knew the execution of this goal would be anything but simple.

That's primarily because there was no precedent.

When he started at Carle in 1981, not one surgeon in Illinois had implanted a cochlear device in a pediatric patient. Adult implants occurred previously, and Dr. Novak continued that work. But pediatric patients presented an entirely new opportunity.

The difficulty that lie ahead presented a moment Dr. Novak couldn’t shy away from.

“At that time, the ear and hearing sub-specialty seemed complicated because nobody knew a lot about it. That’s also why I chose it,” he said. “We had a wonderful opportunity to do something for people that we had never done before.”

By overcoming challenges because of his devotion to the patients he served, Dr. Novak strode to a podium two weeks ago and accepted Carle’s 26th annual Physician Excellence Award.

Looking back, there is little doubt Dr. Novak did what many physicians hope to do. He saw a need, and delivered a blueprint for his goal to start something brand new.

And he thrived off the inspiration that came along the way.

With each successful cochlear implant, a parent could hear their child. A wife could hear her husband. A son could hear his mother.

Through clinical trials and early attempts, though, a significant realization came forward to provoke further dedication to this need.

“Education systems for the pediatric process leaned heavily on sign language,” Dr. Novak said. “If we were going to move forward with cochlear implants, children needed an educational and rehabilitation setting that emphasized hearing and spoken language.”

So, in 1987, that setting became Carle’s program for Expanding Children’s Hearing Opportunities (ECHO). The idea was to build off a successful implant by providing the follow-up children needed to best equip themselves with their new-found hearing.

“A great majority of the parents come to us because they want their child to speak their language,” Dr. Novak said. “To be able to accomplish that for parents and to change a child’s life, that’s tremendously satisfying.

"As it continued, I see their development as nothing short of a miracle.”

Rather being satisfied after the procedure and developing ECHO, Dr. Novak chose to delve even deeper.

A few years later, Carle Auditory Oral School (CAOS) began to ensure young patients’ long-term success. Approved by the Illinois State Board of Education, CAOS combines children with hearing loss and those with normal hearing in small classrooms to promote speech development so children can reach their communication and learning potential.

Colleagues throughout Carle recognized the importance of ECHO and CAOS. 

“His compassion for children with hearing loss is contagious, and he is an inspiration to colleagues and staff,” said Blair Rowitz, MD. “Most importantly, his patients consider him as a hero.”

Carle President & CEO James Leonard, MD, cited many reasons to award Dr. Novak the 2016 Physician Excellence Award. In addition to Dr. Novak's commitment to others, Dr. Leonard appreciates the constant smile his colleague wears.

As it turns out, this Physician Excellence recognition gave Dr. Novak one more reason to smile.

“I just feel tremendously fortunate that peers and staff provided me this honor,” he said. “Peer recognition and gratitude expressed by patients kept me going over the years.”