Most Greenville residents have seen Matthew Zaffuto without even realizing it. His baby picture still adorns the Roto-Rooter billboard on Interstate 385, even though Matthew has just turned eleven years old. It started out as a marketing decision—a cute face to put a personal touch on the franchise. However, over the last ten years, Matthew has become so much more to the business.
Matthew’s parents, Mike and Abby Zaffuto, and their family own nine Roto-Rooter franchises in the Carolinas, with their home office in Greenville. Their family got involved with the business in the 1980s when Abby’s dad saw a classified ad in the newspaper and bought a franchise. When Abby and Mike graduated from Clemson in 1996, she joined her dad in businessright away. Mike joined her a couple years later.
As the business grew, so did Mike and Abby’s family. They now have two daughters—Katie, 17, and Allie, 15—and in 2008, Abby gave birth to their first son, Matthew. “Pretty much right away, we knew something wasn’t quite right,” Abby remembers. “He presented with developmental delays. Basically, he wasn’t meeting milestones.” For years, the Zaffutos traversed the long journey to find a diagnosis for Matthew.
It wasn’t until he was eight years old that Matthew finally got some answers. He was diagnosed with Activity Dependent Neuroprotective Protein (ADNP) syndrome, a condition that was not discovered until 2014. “He was approximately the 25th kid diagnosed,” Abby says of her son. “Today there are around two hundred.” The rare syndrome is the result of a mutated gene that affects brain development, causing Matthew to have intellectual disabilities, fatigue easily, and have a high pain tolerance.
In so many ways, he’s just a normal kid. “Matthew is a super happy kid,” Zaffuto says. “He’s never upset and has a great personality.” He loves going to Clemson games, and he has played at Top Soccer and the Miracle League—local sports leagues for children with special needs.
New scientific research has offered hope to ADNP children like Matthew. As one of the few known causes of autism, ADNPhas garnered a great deal of attention from the scientific community. “The testing is pretty promising,” according to Abby.“It may not help Matthew now that he’s older, but the hope is that we can help other children before their brains are developed.”
Roto-Rooter and the Upstate have rallied around Matthew to support treatment and a cure for ADNP. The Roto-Rooter Franchise Association raised about $16,000 at its annual conference. Abby, Mike, and their franchises have helped support the cause through the ADNP Kids Research Foundation, and they have recently begun fundraising for a clinical trialfor Matthew, who went to New York last summer to begin participating in a study. Abby, along with the wonderful people at Roto-Rooter, are working on a plan to provide consistent contributions through their business to the charities and sciencethat will hopefully lead to a cure. “We just want to magnify the voice we have here to help this cause,” Abby says.
“At some point, we knew we had more than just a cute kid on a billboard,” says Dustin Littrell, head of the marketing team for Roto-Rooter in the Upstate. “We have a sweet kid that is unique in so many ways, including being one of just a few hundred kids with this condition. We think it’s time to tell his story.”
And the community has embraced Matthew. From sports leagues for kids with special needs to excellent doctors and therapists at the Children’s Hospital and Greenville Genetics, the Upstate has provided the Zaffutos with a supportive place to grow their business and their family. “It’s still challenging,” Zaffuto says. “But I think we’re lucky to live where we live.”
So next time you’re heading down I-385 and see the Roto-Rooter billboard, you won’t just think of top-notch plumbing, drain and water cleanup services. You’ll recognize Matthew as well. For more information on ADNP Syndrome or to make a donation, please visit www.adnpfoundation.org.
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