The sounds of Christmas - little things most people take for granted - rang in Damon Hubbard's ears this week for the first time in five years.

Audiologists at the Denver Ear Institute activated a cochlear implant surgically stitched in place a month ago, and Hubbard heard Christmas carols played on a portable keyboard by a woman whose hearing had been restored two years earlier.The 57-year-old Wyoming man just listened.

And listened.

There are lots of sounds he's been missing.

"I can't hear a cat purr," he said.

After having the implant activated, Hubbard said he was able to talk to friends for the first time in many years straining their patience.

Virginia Boulware, 68, of Golden, Colo., former church organist at the First Assembly of God church in Aurora, Colo., had her own cochlear implant activated shortly before Christmas 1988.

"I was the happiest person on earth," she recalled.

She had become unable to play the organ or piano after losing her hearing five years ago.

"I had played the piano since I was 10," said Boulware.

"They hooked me up, they put this keyboard in front of me, and I began playing. And I began crying."

"And I heard birds," she said, catching Hubbard's attention.

"What? You hear birds?" he asked. "I haven't heard a bird in 15 years.

The cochlear implant is a sophisticated device that provides limited but improved hearing for people who can't benefit from hearing aids.

The device costs about $15,000. With the cost of surgery and follow-up care, the total cost is $25,000 to $30,000. Insurance paid for Hubbard's and Boulware's implants.