Generally speaking, getting hit in the head is never a good thing. Very few stories with happy endings usually start with, “So this guy sustained a brain injury one day…”
Derek Amato, 46, is the exception to that rule.
Six years ago, Amato was taken to the hospital with a serious concussion after he hit his head diving into the shallow end of a pool. The then 40-year-old suffered some memory and hearing loss as a result of the accident, and many feared that the long-term ramifications of the injury might end up causing him even more problems down the line.
“I remember the impact being really loud. It was like a bomb going off. And I knew I hit my head hard enough that I was hurt. I knew I was hurt badly,” he said in a Science Channel documentary (via N.Y. Daily News).
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A few days after the accident, no doubt probably still a bit shaken given what he had gone through, Amato visited a friend’s house. The friend had a piano in his home and, for whatever reason, Amato felt some sort of inexplicable desire to play it. You can probably guess what happened next. It was as if his fingers naturally knew what to do. Despite having no formal piano training whatsoever, Amato played an original and (allegedly) beautiful tune as if he were a professional pianist. Then he played another. Then he played some more.
He didn’t get back up until two in the morning.
“It was just one of those moments where you just know,” he told TODAY’s Matt Lauer. “It was just drawing me to it.
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“It just all came out. It was almost like it was just flowing with no limitations. Really.”
Just like that, a once ordinary Denver, Colorado man became one of 30 “acquired savants” in the world today. What’s an “acquired savant”? A person who, after an accident, discovers an ability that they previously didn’t know they had.
Some questioned whether or not Amato had really never played the piano before, so he reaffirmed that fact during his interview with TODAY. He admitted that he had tinkered around with a guitar in the past, but that he had never, ever touched a piano until that fateful night.
As remarkable as Amato’s case is, it’s not the first of its kind. Per the Daily News, quite a few researchers believe that when a particular part of the brain experiences some sort of major trauma, other areas of the brain attempt to compensate for the damage sustained. That, in turn, opens up avenues and skill sets that folks may have never previously known that they had.
The natural follow-up to that, of course, is pondering why so many people who have brain damage after accidents don’t discover a hidden talent shortly thereafter. If the brain really did compensate for injuries, wouldn’t there be a lot more than 30 accidental savants in this world?
For what it’s worth, Amato’s story doesn’t have an entirely happy ending. While he did get to leave his corporate gig to become a professional musician after discovering his newfound skill, he unfortunately also has to deal with painful migraines and the fact that he lost 35 percent of his hearing.
“I think the headaches and the loss of hearing – those things are kind of the price-tag on this particular gift,” he told Lauer. “And I’m OK with that. So I look at it as a blessing.”