Olivia Lettich could not stop giggling. Whenever someone in her family brought up the Calgary Flames, the 11-year-old Lettich would light up with excitement at the mention of her favorite hockey team.
Five years had passed since Lettich visited Scotiabank Saddledome for a Flames game, jumping and cheering at every blast of the horn along with the rest of the red-clad fans, but Sunday’s game against the New York Islanders provided something different.
This time, Lettich, who is legally blind, saw her favorite players and watched the action unfold in front of her as the Flames’ special guest after eSight, a company that sells hands-free devices that allow legally blind individuals to see, reached out to the Calgary Flames Foundation in December to set up the event.
It was a packed day for Lettich, who sang along to the Canadian national anthem on center ice, observed the players warm up from the players’ bench, watched the game with her family from seats 19 rows behind the net and met Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano in the locker room after Calgary’s 5-2 victory over the Islanders, all while wearing her eSight glasses that help improve her vision from 20/400 to 20/40 — glasses she didn’t have at her last Flames game.
“I was able to see all the colors, all the shots, all the names on the jerseys, all the blocks and how fast they were moving,” Lettich said in a phone interview Monday. “It was all so amazing.”
When Lettich was 4 months old, she had a bilateral retinoblastoma, a rare pediatric eye cancer, diagnosed. She would go through nine rounds of chemotherapy at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and 50 radiation treatments before doctors removed her right eye to prevent the tumors from spreading.
Lettich’s cancer is in remission but she is legally blind in her left eye. She has worn eSight glasses, which uses high-definition camera technology, for the past 18 months in school, at movie theaters, sporting events and concerts, but does not wear them throughout the day.
All that, however, hasn’t stopped the energetic preteen from swimming, equestrian jumping and skiing. In addition to her love of hockey, Lettich is a big Baltimore Ravens fan. She rarely misses watching the Ravens on Sundays and the Flames whenever the family is home.
“We watch the Flames at home as much as we can,” said Lettich’s mother, Meredith. “We have an ottoman and she’ll sit right on it, within a foot of the TV.”
Several months ago, Meredith received what she called a “very cryptic phone call” from eSight asking questions about Lettich’s favorite hockey players. Once she found out the plan that was initiated by eSight and put together by the Calgary Flames Foundation, Meredith kept much of it as a surprise for her daughter.
It wasn’t until last Thursday that Lettich found out that she was going to the game, and she didn’t know until the day of that she would meet the players.
“They were so amazing, not just to Liv but all four of our kids,” Meredith said. “They fawned over all the kids … and made them feel special. I can’t say enough about their experience.”
As for Lettich, she left with a story of a lifetime, and the ability to recall not just the raucous atmosphere of a Flames game she experienced years ago, but also the incredible athleticism of professional hockey players that she was able to see for herself.
“It was so much more exciting,” Lettich said. “I didn’t have to ask anyone what was going on and I could physically see it with my own eyes. It was so much more fun because you could see the amazing blocks and you could see [painful] looking smashing in the boards. …I hope to go again soon.”