Why This Alum and His Wife Gave Big for a Unique Health Niche

Rick and Tina Caruso recently donated $25 million to endow and name the USC Tina and Rick Caruso Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery. The gift will also name and endow the USC Caruso Family Center for Childhood Communication. Caruso received a B.A. from USC Marshall School of Business and these days is the founder and CEO of one of the nation’s largest, privately held real estate companies, Caruso Affiliated, whose holdings include The Grove, and The Americana at Brand in the Los Angeles area.

First question: What the heck is "otolaryngology?" Second question: What got a business guy like Caruso to put huge money behind such a unique health niche?

Well, otolaryngology deals with diseases of the ears, nose, and throat, as well as structures of the neck and face. As for the answer to the second question, the story here involves some key themes we've explored at IP. The first theme is that gifts toward health and medical research are often very personal. I once wrote about a billionaire who's put millions behind tackling neurofibromatosis (NF), a rare genetic disorder, after his son was born with the disorder.

Related: Why This Billionaire You've Never Heard of Is Tackling a Disorder You've Never Heard of 

In the Carusos' case, their daughter Gianna was born with mild to moderate hearing loss which doctors and therapists have tried to treat ever since. While Gianna has the ability to hear some sounds, she often relied on reading lips to make sure she understood what was said. Much like another hearing gift I wrote about, early onset hearing loss has unique implications for children, who spend much of their time in the classroom.

A lot of Caruso and Tina's philanthropy, unsurprisingly, has focused in on research, education, and health care. The Caruso Family Foundation, which does most of its grantmaking in Los Angeles, gave away around $1.5 million in a recent year. But the gift wasn't inspired soley because hearing loss has touched the Caruso family. Rather, work being done by USC researchers directly impacted the family.

Let me explain. Last year, Gianna saw a team of USC doctors who provided her with a new, highly sensitive hearing device that was inserted into her ear canal. Remarkably, the device ended up being transformative for Gianna. 

Caruso describes the experience: “The minute the hearing device went in, there was a huge difference. Gianna immediately started crying—all of us started crying... It was a life changer.” Gianna, meanwhile, said that she had never heard rain until being fitted with this new device and now plans on working at the center.

Wow.

We've written before about how gratitude plays a huge role in philanthropy, both in the realm of higher education philanthropy, and in terms of health giving. In this case, it's not just the fact that Caruso feels gratitude toward the school that helped him get his start in business—much later down the line, USC came through with the kind of treatment that his daughter needed.

As well, it's worth noting that the Carusos have been giving to USC for years. They've given more than $35 million to the school, including toward the USC Caruso Catholic Center. Caruso has also been on the USC board of trustees since 2007.