A Utah man who has dressed up like Santa every holiday season for more than 40 years ran into a problem playing St. Nick a few Christmases ago. Mark Woodmansee loved being Santa and meeting kids, but when he started losing his hearing, the job became difficult.
Woodmansee inherited the job of Santa from his father. His dad would dress up in a red suit and visit children and adults with disabilities at Camp Kostopulos in Salt Lake City. One year, his dad couldn't make it, and after some resistance, 16-year-old Woodmansee went in his place.
That was the first time he ever played Santa, and he was hooked for the next four decades. Woodmansee's dad passed down his Santa suit under one condition: If he was going to play Santa, he had to promise to go to charitable events.
Woodmansee kept the promise and often goes to fundraisers and brings gifts to families in need. Playing Santa for those who were less fortunate was Woodmansee's calling, but around the age of 40, it started to become difficult.
He noticed a decline in his hearing ability and it became harder and harder to hear what the children wanted for Christmas. To Woodmansee, each child seemed to want the same thing — a series of mumbles that he couldn't distinguish.
Woodmansee began to dread social interactions, including his once-beloved Santa appearances. He did get hearing aids, but they didn't work as well as he had hoped. So, he knew he had to do something else.
In 2016, he went to get his first cochlear implant. The surgically-attached device is designed to mimic the functions of the ear, according to manufacturer Cochlear Americas. Unlike hearing aids that simply amplify sounds, the implant sends digital sound signals to the auditory nerve, which then sends the signal to the brain.
When the device was turned on, Woodmansee began to hear clearly for the first time in a long time. The moment brought him to tears, and his sweet reaction was caught on camera. The video is now being shared by the company to show others how life-changing cochlear implants can be for some patients. (The National Institutes of Health and the FDA have more information on the potential risks and benefits of cochlear implants.)
From that moment on, Woodmansee stopped dreading social environments. "I can hear my grandkids laughing, birds singing, crickets chirping, soda pop fizzing," he said. Most importantly, he can enjoy the holidays again.
Woodmansee loves hearing Christmas music, laughing with his family, and of course, hearing what kids want for Christmas, which is Santa's most important job.