Albion man awaiting heart and liver transplants stays upbeat running auto repair business

Photos by Tom Rivers: Matt Grammatico opened MPG Automotive in Hamlin in June. He is pictured on Wednesday at his business at 1468 Lake Road West Fork.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 January 2018 at 7:45 am

‘The fact that people are so generous and thoughtful has just blown me away. It is very humbling – all of the donations, prayers, phone calls and letters.’

HAMLIN – Matt Grammatico was living his dream in June when he opened his own automotive repair business in Hamlin.

Grammatico, 45, discovered a love for working on cars when he was a teen-ager. Not long after he bought his first car at age 16, he needed to replace the engine. Grammatico didn’t have the money to pay a mechanic. So he tackled the job with some help from a friend.

Grammatico is the son of retired Albion music teacher Mike Grammatico. Matt played the piano and trumpet, and sang in the choir while a student at Barker. He enjoyed music, but his deeper passion was taking apart cars and fixing them.

“I wanted to work with my hands,” he said.

Grammatico earned an associate’s degree at Alfred State College in automotive repair and worked about four years as a mechanic right out of college.

Matt Grammatico checks the engine of one of the vehicles at MPG Automotive.

Grammatico left the profession to be a truck driver for 17 years for Nabisco in Batavia. He often drove 350 miles a day and felt he was gone from home too often, typically 12 to 15 hours.

“I got tired of seeing pavement all day,” he said at his Hamlin shop on Wednesday.

Grammatico wanted to return to working on cars. Last year he was planning on building a new repair shop in Clarendon. But he saw an ad about a Hamlin business, where the owner was looking to retire. That proved a better deal for Grammatico, rather than building new and acquiring all the tools and equipment needed to run the business.

He opened MPG Automotive in June. The previous owner’s long-time mechanic stayed on and business was going well enough that Grammatico added a second employee.

“The Lord has provided in ways I cannot imagine,” Grammatico said about his automotive business.

Matt’s wife Rhonda, a long-time cafeteria aide at Albion Central School, also gave the shop a welcoming feel, from creating a snack and coffee waiting area to designing fun decorations. For example, she took old discarded tires and painted them white to look like a snowman. Many people from town have stopped by wanting their own.

By September, Grammatico felt zapped of energy. It was hard work just to breathe. He also was bloated. He went to the doctor and was diagnosed with an infection and 2 liters of infected fluid was drained from his abdomen.

He spent nine days in the hospital. At the Cleveland Clinic, doctors said if he hadn’t been treated for the infection he likely would have only lived another two to three weeks.

The doctors gave him shocking news: His liver was destroyed and his heart was weak. Grammatico was told he would need a double transplant.

“It was a complete surprise,” he said. “We never thought it would come this fast.”

Matt knew he had a heart condition, but he thought there were many years before he would have to take action.

He was born with a serious heart condition called Hypoplastic Right Heart Syndrome. He underwent his first operation at 6 weeks old, followed by an open-heart reconstructive surgery when he was 11. Matt also needed multiple procedures and surgeries throughout the next 30 years of his life.

Matt Grammatico is pleased with the start of his new automotive business in Hamlin. In addition to fixing cars, he has a dealer’s license and expects to start selling vehicles this year.

During one of the surgeries as a child, Matt was unknowingly given a Hepatitis C tainted blood transfusion. The virus attacked his liver, undiscovered, for more than 20 years, further complicating his health. He has been diagnosed with end-stage liver disease. Only one of the pumping chambers works with his heart, instead of the usual two chambers. Grammatico said the added work for the one chamber means his heart has the wear and tear of a much older man’s heart.

At the Cleveland Clinic doctors have approved him for the transplants. He needs a final approval from Ohio State health officials, and expects to be on the transplant list soon.

He is taking lots of medicine to help make up for his damaged liver. He still is able to run his business, although he said he has had to lean heavily on his workers. He is thankful for his two dedicated employees who keep the repair shop going if he can’t be there due to medical appointments.

Grammatico’s son Nate is active in Albion’s music and theater programs. Nate was at a campfire with his friends last fall, and shared about his dad’s health concerns. Those friends and their parents decided to put together a benefit for the Grammatico family. This Saturday there will be a spaghetti dinner with a basket raffle and auction at the Carlton Rec Hall on Route 98. The benefit will be from 2 to 7 p.m. Many of Nate’s friends will be performing throughout the event.

Grammatico said his family has been blessed by the outpouring of support.

“The fact that people are so generous and thoughtful has just blown me away,” he said. “It is very humbling – all of the donations, prayers, phone calls and letters.”

Matt and his family attend the Grace Baptist Church in Batavia, where church members have been very supportive, he said.

Matt would prefer to stay out of the spotlight. However, he is grateful for the chance to proclaim his faith during a difficult time.

“I rely on the Lord every day,” he said. “Without him I’d be a puddle on the floor. That’s not to say I don’t have bad days. We’ve seen dark days but that doesn’t mean He has left us.”

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