Cochlear implant gives Polar Express volunteer joy again

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CLEVELAND, Ohio-- It wouldn’t be Christmas in the Cuyahoga Valley without a ride on the Polar Express. The magical train ride modeled after the popular children’s book is a tradition for many families in Northeast Ohio.

For 11 years, conductor and volunteer, Alan Grafton, has wowed kids on the train with his ticket-punching skills. “When I talk to people I like to see them smile; I like to see them react,” Grafton explained.

Kids look forward to seeing Grafton and watching him shine a light through their name punched on their ticket. “It’s just so noisy with the kids and all the activity but it’s a great noise,” Grafton said.

But Grafton, who struggled with hearing all his life, started losing his hearing. The noises he loved on the train became very distant, until one day he couldn’t hear at all.

“I did not stop because I loved it that much; I continued on even when I could not hear,” Grafton said of his time volunteering on the Polar Express.

Grafton’s hearing got so bad he was essentially deaf. Finally, he went to the Cleveland Clinic looking for help. After a year of surgeries, Dr. Erika Woodson gave him the cochlear implant.

“So our patient had a cochlear implant, which is a prosthetic device that we place under the skin and into the inner ear to help replace lost acoustic hearing,” Dr. Woodson explained.

Immediately, Grafton’s hearing was restored. He then worked with his audiologist, Sarah Sydlowski, to fine tune the implant to give him optimal hearing.

“It was always a work in progress for me to hear, because I struggled all my life and each time I heard more and more and with more clarity, it was a big positive gain,” he said.

Sydlowski says too many people live in silence when they don’t need to.

“Many people who are candidates for cochlear implants who may not realize it and many people go for far longer than they need to not hearing as well as they could be,” Sydlowski said.

This holiday season, Grafton is back on the Polar Express and he’s enjoying every minute, every smile and every sound of it.

**More stories on the Polar Express, here**

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