In Memoriam: Steve Epstein

Epstein.professional shot 
Speaker photo of Dr. Epstein for the
2004 AG Bell Convention

Stephen Epstein, M.D. passed away on May 27, 2015. Epstein served as an outstanding leader in the field of listening and spoken language in many capacities, as an advocate for early hearing identification and intervention, through service to the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, and especially for the high-level treatment he provided to thousands of children and adults who are deaf and hard of hearing that he has cared for as an ENT physician.

Epstein inherited an interest in medicine from a family of physicians. He earned his M.D. in 1964 from the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, specializing in otolaryngology. He began his residency at the University of South Alabama, and completed it at the Georgetown University Hospital in 1969. He was certified by the American Board of Otolaryngology and held medical license Maryland for 40 years. He was affiliated with MedStar Montgomery Medical Center as well as Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. He directed his own practice at The Ear Center in Wheaton, MD and was named by the Washingtonian magazine as one of the top area specialists.  

An Advocate for EHDI

He was a tireless champion of early hearing detection and intervention (EHDI) for children and served more than 20 years on the Joint Committee on Infant Hearing (JCIH). Epstein watched the movement from not believing in newborn screening for hearing loss to the gratifying point that the field has reached in which nearly all newborns are screened for hearing loss in the United States. During his tenure on JCIH, the committee released a series of position statements, including the 2007 position statement which advocated for the 1-3-6 timeline. 1-3-6 refers to screening by 1 month; evaluation by 3 months; and intervention by 6 months (typically referring to hearing aids and enrollment in Early Intervention). The document helped to set standards for statewide EHDI systems across the United States. 

Remembered for Service to the Association

Epstein made many contributions to AG Bell, particularly through his service as president from 1998-2000. Through his volunteer leadership of the association, he had a tremendous impact on the lives of countless children and adults and their futures. Epstein generously shared his knowledge with the AG Bell community through its publications. For 22 years, he authored a column in Volta Voices, “Sound Advice” which responded to questions from parents on a wide range of topics, and also edited a Volta Review monograph “Medical Aspects of Hearing Loss for the Consumer and Professional” (vol. 99, no. 5). 

Steve and Andrea Epstein 
Andrea and Steve Epstein in 2013 when he 
accepted the AG Bell board resolution to honor
his work.

Epstein received the AG Bell Honors of the Association in 1994, one of the association’s highest honors for those with outstanding service to those with hearing loss. The AG Bell Board of Directors passed a resolution to honor Epstein in 2013 on his retirement for his contributions during a career that spanned more than 43 years.

AG Bell Past President Donald M. Goldberg, Ph.D., CCC-SLP/A, FAAA, LSLS Cert. AVT, remembers Epstein’s leadership. “Steve was a gem. The ever-smiling Steve Epstein, M.D., was serving as President of the AG Bell Board of Directors when I first was elected to the Board. His calm demeanor and brilliance as a physician and as a volunteer leader, clearly demonstrated that the sky is the limit for a person with hearing loss. Steve was always a gentleman, and we are all saddened with learning of his passing.”

“For any family whose infant was detected with hearing loss as a newborn -- do know that it was Steve Epstein and other pioneers on the Joint Committee of Infant Hearing, who made universal newborn hearing screening a reality in the United States,” Goldberg said. “AG Bell has lost a great leader and friend.”

"His was truly a wonderful life with many contributions to us all." said Jane R. Madell, Ph.D. CCC A/SLP, LSLS Cert AVT, who served on several committees with Dr. Epstein. "Steve was a really wonderful person. I was sad when he retired and am even more sad now."

Epstein is remembered for his trademark Mickey Mouse cufflinks and watch from his days of practicing as an ENT physician. He also recalled that children liked the large fish tank in his office. The origin of the fish tank came from Epstein’s own diagnosis of hearing loss at the age of 4. In the early 1940s, his parents suspected that he was not hearing and took him to a physician who ran a number of tests to identify the hearing loss and the etiology of the loss. The young Epstein loathed the visits and the only way his parents and physician convinced him to continue coming to the appointments was the promise of feeding the fish. Years later, as physician with his own practice, children who visited Epstein could view the many large colorful fish in his own fish tank.

Epstein is survived by his wife Andrea; his children Andrew, Rebecca, Alan, and Barry; and 10 beloved grandchildren, Bella, Tobey, Shelby, Evan, Lily, Asher, Alec, Arielle, Braden and Riley.

Stephen Epstein’s life was celebrated in memorial services held at 1 p.m. on June 1, 2015 at Kehilat Shalom and Shiva was observed at the family home Monday and Tuesday with minyan at 8 p.m.