Dec 2019 Daily Mail Australia
Children’s eyes twinkle as they impatiently wait their turn to climb onto Santa’s lap and tell him a precious secret: what they’d like for Christmas. But, for more than a decade, one Utah Santa Claus was keeping a secret of his own. Being Santa runs in the family for Mark Woodmansee, who carries on the tradition his father started – of listening to the needs of disadvantaged children. When the younger Woodmansee was just 16, family friends asked, as they often did, for his father to play Santa for a holiday party. Since his father was already booked for the evening, he asked his teenage son if he’d fill in for him.
‘Of course, I said, no, I didn’t want anything to do with that,’ Woodmansee said. ‘But then, I said, “what the heck, I’ll do it.”‘ And that was that. Woodmansee ‘found it to really be a lot of fun,’ and then he just kept accepting requests and, 40 years later, he’s still doing it.
Woodmansee (far left, as a child) inherited the role of Santa from his father (right of left) beginning at age 16.
Some things did start to change, however, in the early 2000s. Woodmansee was dating his wife, Nena, when she asked if he had trouble hearing. He’d never noticed, but Nena said she often had to repeat herself to him. Still, Woodmansee shrugged it off, until it began to affect his other work, as a salesman for an expedited freighting company. At last Woodmansee gave in and got hearing aids, which allowed him to limp along for some five years. When those aids started failing him, Woodmansee swapped them out for another pair. ‘I had them about two or three months, and they didn’t work very well. I thought, these are garbage, there’s no sweet spot on them,’ he recalls.
So, back to the doctor he went. Things were much more dire than Woodmansee had realised.
His left ear was completely deaf. Less than 10 percent of his right side hearing remained, and he could only recognise about six percent of the words said to him.
Much of what the Woodmansee Santas do is charity work for kids with mental or physical disabilities.
As his hearing started to fade, Woodmansee as Santa said every child's Christmas wish became just a 'mumble'
Finally, in 2016, Woodmansee got a cochlear implant surgically placed – and a moving video captured the first time the the device was switched in and Woodmansee heard all he’d been missing for so many years. With the implant, Woodmansee has regained the ability to hear children’s wishes, is back to full capacity at work and has heard priceless words from loved ones.
Not long after he got the implant, Woodmansee’s son-in-law, Allah, was diagnosed with leukemia.
‘I was able to be in that fight with him the year I had of his life,’ Woodmansee says. ‘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 me for taking care of my daughter, his wife. ‘And to have that exchange, where I heard 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 that fight.’