When I speak with our trustees about their philanthropy, I am always amazed by their dedication to USC and their commitment to seeing the university advance its mission. But what is most gratifying is when they find a way to align USC’s work with a passion that touches them personally. Niki and I saw this wonderfully reflected in a recent gift from Rick Caruso and his wife, Tina.
The Carusos’ daughter, Gianna, had struggled with hearing loss since birth, limiting her experience of the world in subtle but significant ways. To compensate, she long relied on external hearing aids and learned to read lips, but some experiences still eluded her. As the Carusos recalled, when Gianna attended sleepovers with friends, she would be unwittingly excluded when their conversations continued after the lights went out.
Last year, Keck Medicine of USC doctors changed Gianna’s life. Dr. John Niparko inserted an innovative device directly into her ear canal, dramatically improving her ability to discern sounds. “The minute the hearing device went in, there was a huge difference,” Mr. Caruso recalled to a reporter. “Gianna immediately started crying—all of us started crying. It is so profound how hearing loss affects everything in your life. 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 this device.”
Gianna’s experience inspired Rick and Tina Caruso to make a transformative $25 million gift to USC, one that would benefit our renowned ear, nose and throat program. The gift named and established the USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, as well as its affiliated center, the USC Caruso Family Center for Childhood Communication.
For this gift, our gratitude to the Carusos runs particularly deep, as they have long been exceptional supporters of USC. The couple’s previous naming gift established the USC Caruso Catholic Center, a center for spiritual support for our community, and a home away from home for many of our students. The Carusos’ lifetime giving to the university is well over $35 million, and includes generous support for USC Athletics as well as our Keck School of Medicine of USC and USC Price School of Public Policy.
Mr. Caruso’s own relationship with USC dates back nearly four decades, as he earned his bachelor’s degree with honors from the USC Marshall School of Business. In 2007, he joined our USC Board of Trustees, and he brings his vast professional experience to this role. He founded Caruso Affiliated, one of our nation’s largest privately held real estate companies; the company’s holdings—which include The Grove, The Americana at Brand, The Commons at Calabasas, The Promenade at Westlake, Waterside at Marina Del Rey, and 8500 Burton Way—have transformed the landscape of Southern California and revitalized entire neighborhoods.
With this most recent gift from the Carusos, USC will have the potential to help thousands—or perhaps millions—of people hear for the first time, while significantly bolstering the work of our world-class doctors. Together, we also take a giant step toward finding answers for hearing loss.