Man uses cochlear-implant tattoos as marks of support for son

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KWCH) -- Six-year-old Auto Koeppen was born with cytomegalovirus, or CMV, a rare infection that over time completely took his ability to hear.

The Hutchinson, Kansas boy had moderate to severe hearing loss when he was born, and by 2014, he was completely deaf.

"One day, he woke up and his hearing aids just stopped working," said David Brown, Auto's stepfather.

But Auto can hear today, thanks to implants in his ears.

In February of 2016, Auto got his first cochlear implant. He got his second implant the following June. His mom, Lacey Brown, says he was the first in Reno County, Kansas to get them.

"His progression and his speech (have) gotten a lot better," David said. "He still does sign at school and at home, but he can say a lot more words. He understands a lot more."

But that hearing came at a price.

"It was a lot of pain. It was a major procedure," David says of Auto getting the cochlear implants.

When you're six years old, it's not easy to be different than everyone else.

So, David decided his son would not be alone any longer.

"Before he got the implants, I told (my) wife that if he was able to do it and go through the surgery, then I would get tattoos so he doesn't feel so odd and different, so he doesn't have to go through it by himself," David says.

David got tattoos to match Auto’s implants. Lacey, who has a deafness awareness tattoo, says it has made a huge impact on Auto’s confidence.

"For the first month or so, when I would get up and around in the morning, he would come over and pull my ear back and make sure it was still there," David says. "Maybe he thought it was a sticker or something like that. I think he liked it."

It takes more than blood to make a great parent. A lesson Auto doesn’t need implants to understand.

"(Auto) has a father figure that is not here with us, but to have a father figure that is home with us every day, willing to do that for a child that's not his is great," Lacey said. "We are super lucky."

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