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Legally blind 8-year-old lives full life (By Jill Whalen)

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 12.55.56 PMGabriella “Ella” D’Amato didn’t have any trouble finishing the 1-mile kids’ walk held during the recent Nescopeck Trail Run Festival organized by Community Services for Sight in Hazleton.

“It was easy,” the 8-year-old giggled.

The Hazleton area girl has walked a mile before. She has done a lot of other amazing things, too, even though she is legally blind.

“She wants to do anything and everything. She’s fearless,” said her mother, Marie D’Amato. She rides a bike, roller skates and recently went rock climbing.

And when she’s not swimming or playing with friends, she enjoys singing, playing the piano and talking on the telephone.

“My motto for her is, ‘Don’t disable me. Enable me,’” Marie said.

Gabriella weighed only a pound when she was born prematurely. She was Marie and Dan D’Amato’s only surviving triplet, and soon after her birth, doctors diagnosed her with retinopathy for prematurity. Subsequent surgeries to save her sight were unsuccessful.

“We just had to accept that she would never see,” Marie said.

It didn’t take long, however, for the D’Amatos to realize that their daughter didn’t want to be treated any differently. She has come to them with requests to ride a bike, take her to a water park, and recently tried skateboarding down a hill — although she did it in the sitting position.

“No matter what it is she wants to do, we will find a way to do it,” Marie said. “It might not be the exact thing, but we will get her to do it.”

Of course, there are some activities where Marie and Dan draw the line. When Gabriella announced that she wanted to play baseball, the couple had to explain why it wouldn’t be such a good idea.

“Just for her safety,” Marie said. “She’s pretty good at understanding why something might not be the best thing for her. In instances like that, we encourage her to stick with her music — her signing and playing the piano.”

The D’Amatos are with Gabriella as she tries new activities. But a recent trip to an amusement park where Gabriella rode what Marie called the “biggest” roller coasters, left Marie tired.Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 12.56.20 PM

“It can be exhausting but we do it for her,” she said. “Plus, I have wonderful people who are very supportive — my nieces, family and friends. I can say to them, ‘It’s your turn to take her on the water slides.’ They’re just as supportive and ready and willing to do just about anything for her.”

Lori Lesante, president of Community Services for Sight, met Gabriella for the first time last year at a summer camp she started for blind and vision-impaired children ages 5 to 10. The camp allows children to experience nature, work on crafts and have fun.

Lesante is impressed by Gabriella’s willingness to try just about anything, and said that during the festival held at Nescopeck State Park, Gabriella was a natural on the microphone.

“She said a few words at the start of the event. She told everyone about Camp Sight Jr. and she encouraged everyone to enjoy their day,” Lesante said. “She also sang with another client of ours. Joe Bogwist is a totally blind client of ours who plays the guitar.”

“I sang one, two, three, four, five, six songs,” Gabriella said, as she counted tunes like “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “Bingo.”

Now that she’s completed second grade at Arthur Street Elementary School, she is planning a summer of camping, fishing and swimming. She is signed up to attend Ferrwood Music Camp, the Lions Club’s Beacon Lodge Camp and the Hazleton Area School District’s Kids University.

Funds raised through the recent festival will help Community Services for Sight continue to host the summer camp and provide other services to blind or visually impaired clients.


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