One of Santa's helpers shed tears of joy after regaining his hearing when he received a cochlear implant that changed his life following nearly a decade of struggling to hear not only his loved ones — but the Christmas requests of children in a role he has enjoyed for 40 years.
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Mark Woodmansee, 57, started playing Santa when he was just 16 years old, when he begrudgingly filled in for his father who was unable to serve his standard role as the jolly old elf at a Christmas gathering. The experience left Woodmansee hooked, and the now-grandfather has continued his work as "Santa" ever since.
Shortly after the Utah family man began dating his wife, Nena, a few decades ago, she asked if he had trouble hearing, the Daily Mail reported. Woodmansee brushed off the possibility at first, but then noticed he truly struggled to hear when he was at work at his full time job, and agreed to get hearing aids.
"I had them about two or three months, and they didn't work very well," Woodmansee told The Mail. "I thought, these are garbage, there's no sweet spot on them."
By the time Woodmansee returned to the doctor five years later, his hearing had deteriorated to the point that his left ear was completely deaf, and his right ear could only pick up roughly six percent of the words spoken to him.
As far as playing Santa during that time, he recalled, "I would desperately try to read [children's] lips and a lot of times I wouldn't promise anything and just tell them to keep being good."
Woodmansee decided to have a cochlear device implanted in 2016, after finally determining that he had to "do something." When the doctor switched it on for a test, Woodmansee described the moment as "very emotional." It was captured on video.
Man who plays Santa gets life-changing cochlear implant www.youtube.com
Since the implant, Woodmansee has been able to clearly hear the requests of children again, which were previously just a mumble to him.
But the timing of him regaining his hearing also meant he felt fully present during a heartbreaking personal time that changed his family forever.
Soon after the surgery, Woodmansee's son-in-law, Allah, was diagnosed with leukemia. The cancer eventually took Allah's life, but Woodmansee is grateful that he had regained his sense of hearing at such a critical time.
"I was able to be in that fight with him the year I had of his life," Woodmansee recalled. "One of the last conversations I had with him, I was so grateful that I was able to understand the instructions that he was giving for taking care of my daughter, his wife."
"And to have that exchange, where I hear him tell me he loves me and he heard me tell him I love him...without [the implant], I really wouldn't have been in the fight."