It’s all about making choices

J. Walter Kutz, an alumnus of East Texas State University and an associate professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, continues to nurture the passion he developed at our university and translates it into his work in medicine. After graduating from Old ET, where he majored in music and chemistry, he went on to Baylor College of Medicine in Houston where he studied otolaryngology, the medical specialty concerning the ear, nose and throat. Kutz decided to focus on the ear because he was fascinated with the microscopic surgery involved and because he wanted others to be able to share his love of music.

He remembers his time at East Texas State University, saying, “from the first day, they welcome you; they support you; they teach you how to be a well-rounded musician, you appreciate all different kinds of music and appreciate being able to hear.”

Kutz says, “I got excellent training with Ed Jones and the whole department at East Texas, and one thing about being in the band program—I played the tuba; you had 300 instant friends! I can’t stress how important that was!” He was very active with Phi Mu Alpha, “had a great time with them, met some great friends, other students who enjoyed music” as much as he did.

Eventually, Kutz took classes in the chemistry department and double-majored. “My chemistry training was outstanding. My test scores were always very high, and I attribute that to the training that I got at East Texas. Dr. Lee was very supportive in helping me get into medical school. The school really opened a lot of doors for me. I had to support myself through college—my parents didn’t have the money to send me to college. Fortunately, East Texas was very helpful with scholarships for both academics and music.

“I’d go home a lot of weekends to pay for the car and food and things like that. To have a great university an hour and a half from Dallas, gave me a very important opportunity.”

He then had four years of medical school and went to the House Clinic in Los Angeles when his triplets were just five months old. “It was worth it, and my wife was wonderful taking care of them.” He and his wife met after high school. “She went to Texas A&M in College Station.

“We grew up in the same city and never met each other till after high school, dated for a long time and got married.”

His face lit up as this led into a conversation about his children—an 11-year-old daughter, Sydney, and 9-year-old triplets: Audrey, Grant and Callie. He is very excited that Sydney is already playing the French horn, following in her father’s footsteps by sharing his love for music. “I’m still very active in music. I don’t play as much because of the kids, but I hope to pass on the music tradition.” He joked that he sometimes considers starting a band with his four children but after hearing that A&M-Commerce now has a softball program, he says his three softball-playing daughters may join the team someday.

“The day I found out I was having triplets.… I don’t know how to read sonograms that well, but I knew enough looking at it, and looking at the tech that kept flipping her head back and forth, looking at the chart … I still remember that day very vividly. At that point I already had my fellowship lined up, and I thought seriously about not doing it and just getting a job—medical training doesn’t really pay much, so there’s a lot of sacrifice. But there’s no question, you just do what you need to do.

“When they were born, I was a chief resident in Houston, so I was either operating at night or feeding the triplets. When they were very young, especially when living in Los Angeles… we had a tandem stroller and of course in LA everything’s a spectacle, so people would gather around them because you could tell that they were triplets. It was sort of frustrating at the time, but kind of funny. Now that they’re older, they don’t look as similar, so it’s not quite as novel, but they’re all great friends. It was hard—to come up with three names, let me tell you!”

Kutz said that he works for one of the best cochlear implant programs in the country. “We publish a lot of research; we, as a division, attend multiple meetings and try to be on the forefront of developments. It’s nice to be a part of the whole thing and hopefully add to the literature and knowledge. UT Southwestern is also one of twenty places in the country that offers a neurotology fellowship, so our students get to participate in the research and develop those tools.”

“Otology is a very small field and diseases are very rare. I get to work on clinical trials for new diseases and new medications and treatments. The education aspect is great and I’m very involved with the residency program.” Kutz continued about UT Southwestern, “Neurosurgery and otolaryngology, and extraordinary colleagues, are a big part of the reason I’m here—to work with them. UT Southwestern is an excellent program.”

“Hopefully people read this and get an awareness about cochlear implants. I will see patients that are 6-7 years old, and at that age, the benefits are minimal. I want to increase awareness so that children can have the procedure early, not just for patients, but also for pediatricians. They (the implants) have been out for 30 years, or so, but they just keep getting better and better. The FDA approves them for children as young as one. It’s a developing field and the indications are broadening almost yearly. It’s all really rewarding.”

Dr. Kutz keeps up with the music department at A&M-Commerce and enjoys watching it grow. “I went to the university concert this past spring; it was excellent, fantastic, really good.” He smiled as he remembered his years in the department and expressed immense gratitude for his professors.

“It was a lot of fun seeing my professors at the concert: seeing them again, high quality, great people. As you get older, you get a little wiser, I’m not there yet, but it makes you look back and appreciate your professors. These guys care about their students a lot—you look back 20 years later, and see it was a really great place.”