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'Beautiful Disaster': Head Injury Reveals Hidden Talent

DENVER (CBS4)- A bang to the head changed a Colorado man's life by revealing a hidden talent. Doctors say pianist Derek Amato is one of the few people in the world to have experienced the rare phenomena called Acquired Savant Syndrome.

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He says the music is in his mind. He sees it in his head, and his fingers do the rest. Amato has a gift that came about in an unexpected way.

Twelve years ago he had an accident in the swimming pool.

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CBS4's Rick Sallinger interviews Derek Amato (credit: CBS)

"I miscalculated diving in the shallow end and hit the bottom of the shallow end on this side of my head and damaged the back end," said Amato.

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After recovering from the accident, he was at a friend's house and walked over to the keyboard and suddenly, without ever playing the piano before, he began playing ... and playing.

The trauma to the head unlocked something unique inside Amato's brain.

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Acquired Savant Syndrome has been described in articles and studies "as when a tragedy turns you into a genius." At Classic Pianos on South Broadway in Denver, Amato told CBS4's Rick Sallinger that black and white squares appear in his mind when he's at the piano.

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"I just follow what the blocks tell me to do. I do my best to take those notes and put them into playing," said Amato.

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Derek Amato (credit: CBS)

His talented arms are tattooed with musical notes which he cannot comprehend, "Reading music seems confusing for me. I tried to learn a couple different times."

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He says despite not being able to read music, he's aware that he has been given a precious gift and he tries to give back to those who have spent hard times on the streets of Denver, as he once did.

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"You were homeless here in Denver?" Sallinger asked.

"Yes, I had three months on the streets," Amato replied.

He says he got by with a small backpack and a blanket a lot like the people that can be seen on a daily basis along Lawrence street at Park Avenue West. When he was doing his interview with CBS4, Amato stopped to chat with one apparently homeless woman.

"I have some time on the streets, I had my time with homelessness."

"What do you think about homelessness?" she asked.

"It hurts my heart. I'm going to do everything I can," Amato replied.

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One way he does that is through supporting The Voice newspaper which benefits the homeless. He plans to set up shop with some of the vendors who sell the paper throughout the city and play his music in an effort to draw attention to their mission.

Amato has written a book about it his experience called "My Beautiful Disaster."

"It's the best thing that happened to me. My whole being has changed and I think it's been an incredible experience," Amato said.

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