This isn’t really a paranormal story, but it does explore the mysteries of the human brain. It’s always been amazing to me how someone can get a concussion or awaken from a coma and have some newly-acquired and amazing ability. It makes one wonder if talent is innate in all of us, just waiting to be unlocked. And if those of us who can’t play a certain instrument should just bang on our heads until we can?
A man who suffered concussion after diving into a shallow pool has made a seemingly improbable discovery: it made him a musical genius.
Derek Amato, from Denver, Colorado, is just one of 30 people in the entire world suffering from Acquired Savant Syndrome, where people display profound abilities after suffering head trauma.
After years of failed jobs and homelessness, the 40-year-old is now enjoying a career in music and can play eight instruments – despite never having a lesson in his life.
He has now recounted the startling moment he felt drawn to a friend’s piano after the October 2006 accident and immediately began playing.
‘It was one of those moments when you just knew,’ he told Matt Lauer on the Today show. ‘It was just drawing me to it.’
Amato, who can not read music, explained that he knew what to play as he could see black and white squares in his head that triggered his fingers to move.
‘That’s my notation,’ he said. ‘When those black and white squares are going, that’s what my hands do. I’m convinced it’s all for a reason and it’s my job to do it right.’
Amato, who is recording his second album, plays eight instruments he could not play before, as well as brushing up on his guitar skills, which he described as being a ‘2.5 out of 10’ before the accident.
In October 2006, he was partying with friends when he jumped into the pool and hit his head. ‘I remember the panic set in that I knew I hurt myself,’ he said. ‘I knew it was something bad.’
In a post for the Wisconsin Medical Society, he added: ‘As I dove into the swimming pool, I remember coming up out of the water complaining that my ears were bleeding.’
‘As I looked to my friends for explanation, I recall their lips moving but without sound. As I touched my ears to check for bleeding, I realised there was no blood, and I couldn’t hear anything at all.’
After collapsing, Amato was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with a serious concussion. Doctors also found he had a permanent 35 per cent loss of hearing, as well as memory loss.
But, Amato told the Today show, this is a small price to pay for what he can do now. ‘The headaches and the loss of hearing are the price tag for this gift,’ he said. ‘I’d like it to stay.’
It comes as a godsend for the father who had worked a string of jobs – from public relations, karate teaching, sales and baseball coaching – without ever knowing what he wanted to do.
In 2002, he became homeless after losing everything on a business investment, he wrote on his blog. ‘I was sleeping in my car at rest stops for 3 months while looking for a job,’ he wrote.
He got back on his feet after finding a job with the U.S. postal service before the accident.
He added on his blog: ‘Upon being diagnosed with acquired musical savant syndrome and Synesteshia, this condition and miraculous discovery would now make me one in seven billion, and the only medically documented case of this particular nature on the planet!’
Dr Andrew Reeves, who examined him, said the accident had altered his brain.
‘The kind of acquired savant syndrom he has is first off quite rare and secondly very unique in the sense of music, visual and motor abilities,’ he told NBC.
Savantism expert Darold Treffert, M.D. defines the condition as ‘previously non-disabled persons who after some injury or disease begin to demonstrate some, until then, dormant savant characteristics and capacities’.
He notes cases where people began showing artistic, musical or mathematical abilities after an accident.
Another example is Alonzo Clemes, whose verbal and cognitive abilities stopped developing at the age of three due to a head injury, but who could put together animal sculptures in minutes.
Of course, the skeptic in me always has my bullshit detector going, and something about this story does smell fishy to me, and it’s something people also bring up in the comments of the original story: is this guy just a frustrated and unsuccessful musician trying to find his way into the mainstream? I suppose it’s just as possible as damaging your brain just enough where you become a musical genius. Perhaps more so.