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Heights Senior Staff

Published: Monday, February 25, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 09:02

“Oh, don’t worry about it at all,” Pete told his dad. “They’re telling me it’s a pinched nerve in my neck.”

That made sense to John. If it was a pinched nerve, as soon as they relieved the pressure on that nerve, his wrist would be fine, and everything would be back to normal. So John turned the game back on, and soon went to bed.

“I slept like a baby that night,” he said. “It’s pretty much the last night I slept like a baby.”


It was a Tuesday morning, March 12, that Frates went to the neuromuscular appointment with his mom and dad. Frates drove his own car, while his parents drove in theirs. They were all dressed to go to work, thinking they’d go their separate ways after the appointment.

When they got to Beth Israel, Frates was put through a series of tests. As his parents would soon find out, ALS is diagnosed by omission. The doctors had to knock out every single syndrome, condition, and diagnosis before they could make it official.

As Frates went through more tests and questioning, they were able to cross several diseases off the list. The more severe the diseases got, the more concerned John and Nancy became. It wasn’t Lyme disease. It wasn’t multiple sclerosis. It wasn’t Parkinson’s.

“I’m like, ‘Whoa, whoa, where are we going here?’” his father John thought.

“I was starting to think, ‘Oh my God, do they think he has MS? Is that what they’re doing? Is that what they’re testing him for?’” his mother Nancy said.

Finally, when everything else had been eliminated, the doctor confirmed what Frates had suspected since October. He had ALS.

In a split second, the Frates family’s life changed forever.

“It was like getting hit by a bus,” Nancy said. “I don’t even know how to articulate it…trauma. Absolute trauma.”

“Both my wife and I were beyond devastated, but Pete sat there like he had seen this movie a hundred times,” John said.

Nancy and John kept looking at Frates, but his expression didn’t change at all. He saw the diagnosis coming all along.

“I kind of shrugged it off,” Frates said. “I was like, ‘Whatever. Let’s move on.’”

The hardest part for Frates wasn’t hearing the diagnosis, but having to see his parents’ reaction.

“That just sucked,” he said. “That was the worst part.”


Andrew Frates was at work in Southborough, MA when he got a text from his parents asking him to come home immediately. Right away, he knew something was wrong with his older brother.

“I was driving back home at like 95 miles an hour for a whole hour, just thinking, ‘Alright, Pete’s got cancer or something like that,’” Andrew said. “To come home and to hear the shock that it was ALS … I just remember my mother grabbing me and saying ‘Pete has ALS.’ She just hugged me and started crying. It was just bizarre, complete shock.”

Jenn was in New York at her office downtown. After she got out of a big presentation that morning, she saw she had a number of missed phone calls from her husband. She called him back, and he told her he was coming to pick her up.

“Of course, I knew something was wrong, but honestly, I thought it was something with his grandmother or one of my grandparents,” Jenn said. “I still wasn’t connecting Pete’s appointment with my husband coming to pick me up and bad news.”

When she got into the cab, her husband told her that Frates had been diagnosed with ALS.

“I just couldn’t even process it,” she said. “I didn’t even think about my brother, still. I said, ‘What are you talking about that your friend Pete has ALS?’ And then he said, ‘No Jenn, the doctor’s appointment, your brother … he has ALS.’”

They went back to their apartment, packed up, and got on the next flight to Boston.

Gambino was out in California recruiting, and going through security to take a redeye back for a series at Clemson. While he was in line, his phone rang. It was Frates, but Gambino couldn’t pick it up at the time. He figured it was just Frates calling to see how he was doing, and that he could call him back the next morning.

“I think I might have left a cryptic voice mail, like, ‘Hey man, call me when you can,’” Frates said. “I never leave voicemails like that.”

When Gambino called back in the morning, Pete asked him if he and his dad could come into his office to talk when he got back from Clemson. Pete had often been in to Gambino’s office. When he was named head coach at BC in 2010, Pete was one of the first people in his office, asking Gambino how he could help out to get the program to the next level.

But this visit was going to be different.

“When he said his dad was coming, it was kind of weird,” Gambino said. “I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then he told me. At the time, for me, I didn’t fully understand what he was telling me. I knew what Lou Gehrig’s disease was—I knew what ALS was—kind of. I still didn’t fully grasp what ALS was at the time.”

As soon as Gambino got back to Chestnut Hill, he met with Frates and John in his office.

“It was so positive, it was so upbeat, it was so typical Pete, that he sat down and he told me about it, he talked about how they got the diagnosis, and I’m like devastated at this point. And he says, ‘What a great opportunity this is.’ I’m like, ‘How can we be talking about a great opportunity?’” Gambino said.

“I’m younger than most people who get this, I’ve got a really good platform, I’m going to go out and be a game-changer,” Frates told Gambino. “The ALS community, that’s my new team.”

Meanwhile, Frates was overwhelmed with the immediate support he felt from Gambino.

“We went in and immediately, Mike said, ‘What can I do? What can we do?’” Frates said.

Seeing the two talk, it was clear to John how close his son and Gambino were.

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