Former newspaper reporter's fight with degenerative disease chro - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Former newspaper reporter's fight with degenerative disease chronicled in film

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(Western Mass News photo) (Western Mass News photo)

Former newspaper reporter Fred Contrada has led an active, adventurous life.

You probably know Fred from his 30 years of reporting at the Springfield Republican.

Fred was never one to sit still, but today, a degenerative disease prevents him from moving about as he once did.

Fred's son, Rio, has made a film about his dad's medical challenges.

"My dad is like the ultimate adventurer," said Rio Contrada.

Rio Contrada proudly talks about his dad, Fred Contrada, a retired reporter and columnist for the Springfield Republican.

Fred has been diagnosed with pulmonary supra-nuclear palsy, a rare degenerative disease of the brain which impairs movement and balance and is characterized by symptoms similar to Parkinson's disease and dementia.

The disease prevents Fred from traveling around the way he used to after college.

"He worked in an apple orchard in Oregon.  He worked at a salmon fishing plant in Alaska.  He worked on a tug boat in the Mississippi River, a pizza parlor in Atlanta.  He's kind of been everywhere and done everything," Rio Contrada added.

Those travels of Fred are chronicled in a book titled "The Columns of Fred Contrada," which Rio loves to read to his dad.

Western Mass News reporter Ray Hershel had the honor of being the subject of one of the book's chapters.

Today, Fred's son is making a short film about his dad's condition both before and after his illness.  

He has a message for all families going through the challenges of having a loved one with a degenerative disease.

"I want to show that people aren't defined by one period of their life, particularly people who are going through degenerative illnesses," Rio Contrada explained.

Fred's wife Joan, daughter Amanda, and son Rio are giving Fred all the love and support they can. 

The film, titled 'Time to Go', casts local actors to portray the Contrada family .

Rio Contrada said that it's indicative of the spirit his dad always had.

"We titled it 'Time to Go' because often times, when my dad would try to stand up and go somewhere, we'd ask him what he wants primarily and often he would tell us it's time to go," Rio Contrada said.

After the interview with Rio, Fred liked what his son had to say.
"[He did a good job, didn't he Fred?]  He did," Fred noted.

These days, Fred receives care at the Atrium Assisted Care Facility in Agawam.

Catherine Jordan is resident care director at the Atirum.

"We do tailor our plan around their specific needs whether it's mobility, sleeping habits, dietary needs, so things for Fred just as simple as being an early riser between 5 and 6 a.m.," Jordan explained.

Jordan said the program called "Live Now, Live Engaged"  focuses on six dimensions of wellness, ranging  from physical, intellectual, and social to sense of purpose.

"The programs we choose and Fred participates in all hit on a topic of wellness, so he loves group exercises, programs.  He's very active," Jordan added.

So today, even though a degenerative disease doesn't allow Fred to engage in the great adventures he once did, he still has the urge to keep going and a message for those impacted by a degenerative disease.

"So for my dad, he's the same person who's a mountain climber, a great storyteller, and we want to comfort these people and let them understand they're not the only ones going through this and there's a shared experience there," Rio Contrada said.

Fred's son, Rio, told us if people want to get involved with his project, they can find him on Facebook or Instagram at 'Time to Go Movie' where they can watch a promo video and consider a contribution.

More information on the movie can also be found on

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