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May 31, 2003

Implant Restores Deaf Firefighter's Hearing

From: The Buffalo News, NY - May 31, 2003

News Southtowns Bureau

On Nov. 1, Mike Zogaria's life went quiet.

The 43-year-old volunteer firefighter and emergency medical technician from Depew had had hearing problems since he was 4, and wore a hearing aid. But in the space of a couple of hours, he lost all hearing in both ears.

"I was working," he said. "I noticed something didn't seem right. By noon (my hearing) was gone."

"I was the last person to talk to him on the phone," said Kim Ignatowski, his friend and co-worker at Rural/Metro Medical Services. She said he was scared.

Zogaria, who has been on hundreds of emergency calls as a first responder, couldn't even hear a siren. He was left in sudden and complete silence.

But today he can talk about his experience on the telephone and listen to Reba McEntire - one of his favorite singers - on the radio.

He can even hear things he has never heard before, all because of a cochlear implant that was surgically implanted in his skull behind his right ear Dec. 20.

"Knock on wood, it's been going very well," he said.

The device was activated Jan. 21, and adjusted on a regular basis until he got used to the sounds. He returned to work part time a couple of weeks ago.

"I'll never get 100 percent hearing back, " he said.

Zogaria never had 100 percent hearing, but since getting the implant, he has come across a number of sounds he never heard before.

They are the low background noises that those with hearing take for granted. He now hears the hum of a computer when it is turned on, and keys jangling against the steering wheel of a car.

He can stand in his house and hear birds chirping outside, and the ceiling fan as it cuts through the air.

"We have clocks on the wall. I used to never hear them tick," he said.

Many people know Zogaria from his work for Rural/Metro at special events, such as Buffalo Bisons, Sabres and Bills games.

"He's an awesome guy," said Nancy Gospodarski, who works in human resources at Rural/Metro. "He would go out and help anyone who needed help."

"He's the most generous person I know," Ignatowski said, adding, "He loves being an EMT."

She said it was difficult for Zogaria when he first went deaf and was unable to do his job. His doctors were never able to determine the cause of the sudden hearing loss.

He withdrew from people. He could read lips, but found it difficult to deal with the constant silence. Not being able to hear Christmas music was a particularly hard loss, he said.

"I felt I couldn't be a fireman anymore. I wanted to resign," he said.

His colleagues at the Depew West End Hose Company would not let him quit. They kept him involved in company activities and jobs that did not require hearing, and they kept an eye on him.

"No matter where I went, there was always someone by my side," he said. "They're always watching over me."

Because he was out of work for six months and has continuing bills to pay for maintenance of the implant, members of the fire company have organized a benefit for Zogaria from 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday in the Hearthstone Manor, 333 Dick Road, Depew.

His friends and co-workers at Rural/Metro are selling tickets and helping out for the benefit as well.

"I feel like I've got a second chance in life," Zogaria said, "especially when you hear stuff you've never heard before."


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