For Amesbury’s Don Amato, life as he knew it changed in 1993.
The now 45-year-old was active and healthy. Then, suddenly, on vacation with friends, he collapsed. He soon found himself on what seemed to be an endless road of doctor’s appointments with no diagnosis of what was ailing him.
“I went to a lot of doctors,” he said. “They couldn’t pinpoint it.”
Doctors believed he had multiple sclerosis, an inflammatory disease that attacks the nerve cells. It wasn’t until 2001 when a Haverhill neurologist, Dr. Richard Finkelman, figured out that it wasn’t MS, but instead, a rare neuro-degenerative disorder called multiple system atrophy (MSA), Amato said. While MSA has symptoms similar to Parkinson’s disease, the condition causes damage to the areas of the central nervous system that controls heart rate, blood pressure and sweating.
“It’s a very complicated disorder,” Amato said.
Over time, the disease has worsened, and Amato now has problems walking and struggles with fatigue. He no longer can walk unassisted outside of his home, he added.
“My talking has gotten more hoarse,” he said. “It’s changed; that’s part of the disease.”
The disease will only continue to progress, he said. There is no cure for MSA, and treatment can only control the symptoms.
In an effort to allow Amato to maintain some independence, friends are holding a fundraiser on Sunday in Manchester, N.H., to help raise money for Amato and his wife, Michelle, to purchase a wheelchair van.
Arti Doucette, a friend of Amato who is organizing the event, said four local bands will play throughout the afternoon — including his own. Doucette is the lead vocalist for the band Among the Living. He is also the head chef at Greg’s Place, where the fundraiser will be held.