STONEHAM, Mass. Until January of last year, Tom Filipado was a regular at Karaoke Night every Sunday at the Cock ‘n Bull, a local pub here. “His specialty was a medley of hits by Morris Albert,” according to his friend Mike Adamlik. “Since Albert was a one-hit wonder, he’d sing ‘Feelings’ three times.”
But all that changed one night when Filipado felt a tingling along his left arm, then a numbness. “My whole world crumbled in an instant,” he says, referring to the stroke that left him unable to walk or–more importantly in his case–sing a note.
But thanks to research breakthroughs by doctors at the Massachusetts Neurological Institute in Boston, who developed an experimental drug cocktail that has yet to receive FDA approval, Filipado is again able to walk and sing, with dramatic results that friends and family witnessed last week as he took the stage for the first time in over a year.
“He launched right into Prince’s ‘Kiss’ and he really nailed it,” says his sister Eileen, who admits she attended the comeback performance only with trepidation, whatever that is. “It was the tricky ‘Ain’t-no-particular-sign-I’m-more-compatible-with’ part I was worried about,” she says. “I was afraid he’d get tongue-tied, but he did fine.”
“I really missed you guys when I was in the hospital. Did you miss me? Is this mic on?”
“Karaoke” is a Japanese compound term made up of the words “kara” and “okesutora” which can be loosely translated as “bad singing.” It is a form of interactive entertainment in which people get drunk and sing publicly in a manner they would otherwise limit to the privacy of their showers.
But with Filipado’s recovery comes a difficult medical decision for his family and friends. “The drugs aren’t expensive, because the doctors at Mass Neurological basically made them in a Crock-Pot,” says his sister. “It was more a quality of life decision. Did we all want to suffer from the side effects?”
“Add a dash of ibuprofen, one bay leaf, and simmer until you receive venture capital funding.”
And so Filipado’s parents obtained a court order allowing them to take him off the experimental drugs in a case that recalled the Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo controversies. “It was for the best, even if Tom didn’t realize it at the time,” says his mother Dianne Filipado. Thanks to physical therapy her son can walk and lead a substantially normal life.
The one exception to his otherwise standard array of cognitive and motor skills became apparent as he took the stage at the Cock ‘n Bull last night and typed in the number for the Joe Cocker hit “You Are So Beautiful.” Electronic strings swelled from the speakers and Filipado attempted to give voice in Cocker’s strangle-toned style but out came–nothing.
“I . . . can’t sing,” he said with a look of puzzlement on his face–and the audience broke out in a standing ovation.