In Memoriam: Dr. Sid Khosla
An expert in vocal cord and airway reconstruction, he is remembered as a “gift” to UC
Sid Khosla, MD, professor and vice chair for research in the UC College of Medicine Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, died unexpectedly Dec. 13. He was 60 years old.
Khosla was nationally admired for his expertise in vocal cord and airway reconstruction. The first fellowship-trained laryngologist in the Cincinnati region, Khosla grew the UC Health Performance and Professional Voice Center into a premier program treating and assisting people who use their voice professionally, including performers from the Cincinnati Opera, UC College-Conservatory of Music, the Cincinnati Symphony and many performing artists traveling through the Cincinnati area.
Colleagues recalled Khosla’s significant impact on the Department of Otolaryngology and his prowess in patient care and research. They point to his training in engineering as the basis for how he investigated the source of sound and how to repair vocal deficits. He was, they say, someone who inspired those around him, was a lover of the arts—especially vocal performance—and was committed to the mental and emotional wellbeing of students and faculty.
“Dr. Khosla provided the UC ENT community with a unique passion, intellectual curiosity and gentleness of spirit that is all too rare,” says David Steward, MD, the Helen Bernice Broidy Professor and chair of the Department of Otolaryngology. “Indeed, it was the very essence of his “Sidness” that engaged his scientific colleagues, fellow clinicians and students, inspiring them to move beyond the mundane to achieve their own intellectual greatness.”
Khosla joined the College of Medicine faculty in 2004 after spending two years on faculty at the Medical College of Ohio in Toledo. While at UC, he also served as the director of the UC Center for Laryngeal Biomechanics and the UC Health Voice and Swallowing Center. For two years, he was the director of the UC Health Adult Airway Program.
“Sid was a rare individual for our times. In an age of self-aggrandizing social media celebrity, he eschewed power, ego and material wealth. Instead, focusing his intellectual curiosities in research, clinical care and pedagogic activities, he thrived,” says Myles Pensak, MD, emeritus professor and former chair of the department from 2005 until 2021. Moreover, his passions for the arts; in particular opera, literature and experimenting with a variety of cuisines, enabled him to break bread with a disparate and diverse group of friends. This humble, thoughtful, respectful and gracious friend and colleague was a gift to UC-ENT, as well as the College of Medicine community. He will be missed by all who were fortunate to be touched by his time with us.”
Khosla’s passion for helping vocal performers did not end in the clinic or his research lab. He also served for a decade as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Cincinnati Opera.
Eight years ago, Khosla recruited Rebecca Howell, MD, to the department as the second fellowship-trained laryngologist in Cincinnati. Howell, now an associate professor, became a close friend, clinical partner and research collaborator with Khosla.
“He was a genius. He may be the most intelligent person I will ever know, and I am proud he chose me as a partner and colleague. The outpouring of messages from those he taught, befriended and mentored has been a sentiment to his character,” she says. “When I began, it was just him and three speech pathologists and under his leadership we grew to four laryngologists, including two surgeon-scientists, three translational labs and more than 10 speech pathologists. He grew our program into one of the largest laryngology programs in the country.”
During the stressful COVID pandemic, Khosla introduced Howell to mindfulness training, which she says has become a daily practice that translates in both her professional and personal life. Khosla was an affiliated faculty member of the Osher Center for Integrative Health at the University of Cincinnati for more than a decade. He taught mindfulness programs to faculty and students, both at the College of Medicine and the UC College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), says Sian Cotton, PhD, Turner Farm Foundation Chair and director of the Osher Center.
“He was so committed to the mental and emotional wellbeing of both the College of Medicine and CCM students and faculty and he helped us expand at the College of Medicine and eventually bring the mind-body program to CCM. He personally funded several CCM faculty to get trained in the program,” Cotton says. “He would teach mindfulness, meditation, guided imagery and other mind-body techniques aimed at self-reflection, self-awareness and stress reduction. In addition to him being a brilliant surgeon-scientist, he was also a real wellness champion who led by example.”
Cotton and Howell now are working to create some type of collaboration in Khosla’s memory between the Department of Otolaryngology and the Osher Center.
“He was an incredible faculty leader and human being who led with his own personal vulnerability and modeled for others the importance of social connections and emotional and mental wellbeing. Within his own vulnerability he would allow others to be themselves and to show up authentically at work, as students and as human beings,” Cotton says.
It was clear that he chose his career in medicine as a mission to help others and he saw science as a tool to enhance his ability to achieve the highest level of perfection.
Ephraim Gutmark, PhD
Khosla received his medical degree in 1991 from the Bowman Gray School of Medicine at Wake Forest University. He completed his internship in general surgery, a yearlong research residency, an otolaryngology residency and a fellowship in laryngology and voice disorders at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
He was a respected leader in voice, vocal cord and swallowing disorders research. During his career he received six R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health and more than $12 million in total research funding. With an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a master’s in bioengineering from the University of California, San Diego, Khosla approached voice problems as both an engineer and a physician. In his research, he teamed with Ephraim Gutmark, PhD, an expert in jet noise and professor of aerospace engineering at the UC College of Engineering and Applied Science, to conduct research on how air flow affects the voice.
“I was looking for collaboration with the medical side of UC for some time, but the difference between the medical and engineering cultures were always a difficult hurdle. With Sid, it was an immediate perfect match,” says Gutmark, who began collaborating with Khosla in 2004. “My collaboration with him was one of the most valuable experiences I’ve ever had in my career, both personally and professionally. He was one of the rare people that you feel that your association with them makes you a better person. I’ll miss him very much.”
Gutmark calls Khosla “a true renaissance man” who had a deep interest in all aspects of humanity: medicine, engineering, art, psychology and philosophy. It was easy to communicate with him, to discuss new ideas, to study new approaches and to analyze problems from different perspectives, he says.
“His thesis was that if you look deeper than the classical medical approach of form equals function and try to understand the underlying physics you can discover new treatments,” Gutmark says. “He applied this approach to voice research. He proposed a new mechanism of voice production that was different than the conventional one and therefore was quite controversial. With NIH support, his tenacity, vision, and skills, he was able to gain acceptance by the voice community and led to the development of new clinical approaches.
“Apart from being an outstanding scientist-clinician Sid had an amazing and rare personality. He was sensitive, compassionate, selfless, and always ready to help. It was clear that he chose his career in medicine as a mission to help others and he saw science as a tool to enhance his ability to achieve the highest level of perfection.”
Khosla is survived by a brother. His wife, Heather, died in 2018. A celebration of Khosla’s life will be scheduled at a later date.
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