Determined. Grateful. Blessed. Enthusiastic. Brave.
This is the life of Division Avenue High School senior Angelina Gatt. No one is more excited to perform than Angelina Gatt. That’s because Gatt, a cheerleading captain, understands that each moment she can see is one that is truly amazing.
“At night time, I was blind,” Gatt said. “Everything was pitch black. What I saw or could actually see, was mostly black.”
Gatt was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA), a rare genetic eye disorder affecting only 3,000 people in the United States. In 2013, she participated in a clinical trial, which included gene therapy. She went from being legally blind to low vision status, which has certainly changed her life.
Just a year ago, Gatt spoke in front of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory committee, advocating for them to approve the gene therapy that gave her a chance at seeing the world.
“I could see the street lights, but I couldn’t see the poles, so it was black with some light,” Gatt said. “My visual acuity got a lot better. I went from legally blind to low vision because of it. At night time, I can see everything, which is kind of amazing, like I don’t even mind my eyes are light sensitive.”
During the day, Gatt does need to wear sunglasses since her eyes are sensitive. But she’s so grateful to see that she doesn’t mind. She can go out at night now, something she couldn’t do before because it was so difficult. Now, she said she “loves the night time.”
The life-changing trial meant she can be a normal teenager, and it’s elevated her to become a leader in the unlikeliness of places: the cheerleading team.
“Angie is the kind of athlete every coach wants on her team,” cheerleading coaches Elizabeth Lynch and Cristen Ronzo said in a combined statement. “She shows grace in the face of adversity and is grateful that her coaches care enough to push her beyond her own perceived limits. As a captain, Angie knows that her own actions, attitude and body language impact the success of the team, and she looks to be a positive role model each time she enters the gym. We thoroughly enjoyed having Angie as part of our Division Avenue cheer family for the last four years.”
Despite the trials and tribulations that Gatt has faced over the years, she never gave up.
Even when LCA took over Gatt’s life, it didn’t stop her from participating in sports. For 13 years, she played soccer before making the shift to cheerleading. Though it was difficult for her to play at times, she made it work.
“I always asked the refs to change the ball we’re playing with to white,” she said. “I needed a white ball against the green grass to help me. Once it was sunny and the ball was white, the game wasn’t hard for me. If it was night time, I couldn’t see anything. After my surgery, my eyes are light sensitive, so I actually prefer daytime now.”
While Gatt’s eyes still give her problems, mainly with her peripheral vision, this is one athlete who will certainly never give up.
Gatt said, “It was an amazing journey and one I’m grateful for. The fact that I can see so much better and perform for my team and myself is just so amazing.”