, Newburyport, MA

September 27, 2012

'We really wanted to do something'

Friends look to assist Amesbury man with multiple system atrophy

By Katie Lovett
Features Editor

---- — 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.

The fundraiser is set for Sunday from 5 to 9 p.m. at the restaurant, 641 Elm St. Admission is $10.

“I’ve known Don since 1978; our parents knew each other,” Doucette said. This summer, Amato attended his show at Salisbury Beach, and as the two friends caught up, he shared his update on the disease and how he spends much of his time in his wheelchair. Amato told Doucette of his hopes to purchase the wheelchair van so he could get to doctors’ appointments and run errands or go to the grocery store.

“I’ve seen him only a handful of times over the last year, and he’s gotten worse each time I’ve seen him,” Doucette said. “It’s obviously troubling to me and his other friends as well. We really wanted to do something.”

Organizers hope to raise enough money for Amato to secure a down payment for the van, Doucette said.

An Amesbury native, Amato graduated from Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School in Haverhill where he studied culinary arts.

Donations for Amato can be sent to him at 7 Mason Court, Amesbury. He can also be contacted at the email address