"He can play in a water park. He can even go swimming."
While some may take those activities for granted, Port Coquitlam's Larisa Boar sees them as benchmarks of progress for her seven-year-old son, Alex.
Diagnosed with severe hearing loss at the age of two, Alex is now on the path towards doing all the things other kids his age are, thanks to a specialized hearing device paid for by a $6,500 grant courtesy of Variety - The Children's Charity.
The organization's yearly Show of Hearts Telethon is slated for this Saturday and Sunday (Feb. 16 and 17), and will highlight a number of stories similar to the one playing out in Alex's life.
"He's doing fantastic," Larisa said. "I'm really happy with where he's at. The possibilities are endless."
Referred to as a Cochlear implant, the device was first surgically implanted in December 2007. The implants work via instruments both on the inside and outside of Alex's ears, and the external devices resemble a Bluetooth device used for cellphones.
The implants have helped Alex's development in ways that the alternatives - hearing aids or sign language - could not.
"We tried all three options - we did some signing, we used the hearing aids," Larisa said. "We wanted to give it a chance to see if he's getting any benefits from the hearing aids, so that we wouldn't be doing any intrusive surgery to his head. But when we saw that there was no progress at all, and that he hated the hearing aids, we decided that the Cochlear implant was the best solution. It was truly the best solution we could have done."
Alex's hearing loss wasn't tied to a specific illness, but rather, was attributed to genetics. His parents first began noticing signs that something was amiss when Alex was seven months old. After a year and a half - and a series of tests - Alex was diagnosed as being "severe to profound deaf" when he was two and a half years old.
"We were hopeful that everything was OK and that we didn't have to worry about it, but by the time he turned two, there were still no words at all," Larisa said. "When they told us the diagnosis, it was devastating. But if you have an issue, you have to deal with it."
That early diagnosis was followed by the first Cochlear implant procedure, which Alex underwent when he was three. That surgery was followed by four years worth of daily trips into Vancouver to a specialized school for children with limited or no hearing.
He was recently fitted with a newer model of the implant, thanks to the grant money provided by Variety. Larisa describes the new device as slicker and lighter, and says it allows him to participate in activities like swimming - something he couldn't do before.
"The quality of the sound is so much better," she said.
As of last September, he was enrolled in Grade 1 at Castle Park Elementary in PoCo. He sees a hearing resource teacher twice a week, on top of attending language assistance training three times weekly.
Although he'll have to wear the implants for the rest of his life, it's hoped that his speech and hearing will catch up to that of his peers within two or three years.
"Sometimes, I can see he feels different," Larisa said. "And now that he's getting older, he's more aware of his impediment. But he's very social and a very likeable child. From that perspective, I couldn't ask for more."
Alex's story is one of 12 in the PoCo context alone in which Variety made a difference. Stats from the charity indicate that 12 individual family grants were issued in the last year totaling $24,186.78. In Coquitlam, $62,240.29 went out in the form of 18 grants, while $23,717 was issued via eight grants in Port Moody.
The Variety Show of Hearts Telethon runs this weekend at Coquitlam's Red Robinson Theatre. Though not open to the public, the show will be broadcast on Global TV.