“This experience has taught me to really enjoy the little things,” Renteria said. “We tend to take a lot of things for granted like being able to see or being able to drive.” | Photo courtesy SISD

Pebble Hills High School wrestler rises above rare medical diagnosis, excels academically, athletically

Gustavo Renteria Jr. was at a wrestling competition in Houston his freshmen year when he noticed something was wrong with his vision.

The Pebble Hills High School student-athlete had been having some noticeable changes in his vision, and at that point he couldn’t tell the difference between the different colored mats where he was supposed to wrestle his opponent.

“All these thoughts started going through my head and I began to wonder how much further my eyesight would digress,” Renteria said. “There was a lot of fear that my eyesight would get worse until eventually I couldn’t see anything, and things would go dark.”

Upon returning home Renteria and his family searched for an answer, as his condition worsened and he was steadily losing vision in both his eyes.

Renteria and his family struck luck in facing what seemed like an impossible obstacle when they found a local doctor at Texas Tech University, who not only diagnosed Renteria with Leber’s Disease or Leber Hereditary Optic Neuropathy, but also knew of a treatment that was taking place in Europe. The doctor requested permission and received approval from the Food and Drug Administration for Renteria to be given the medication here in the United States.

An uncle and a cousin in Renteria’s family also suffered from the same condition but had never been treated for it and the family never imagined it happening or progressing the way it had in Renteria.

“To hear what he had was initially devastating because we knew of it and what it could progress into, so it was a big shock and a little traumatizing,” said Renteria’s father, Gustavo Renteria Sr. “From that moment on it became a journey for all of us to learn about it, understand it, and figure out how to be there for Gus in whatever capacity.”

Knowledge of the medical condition and the innovative treatment, which he received in September 2020, has already begun to reverse Renteria’s vision in just a few months.

“I was both afraid and excited,” Renteria said of the treatment. “It was a relief to have this change of pace where my vision was getting better instead of it getting worse. I’ve had a lot more hope and a better outlook on just what to appreciate in life now.”

Renteria said he is sure if he had not been properly diagnosed and treated, his symptoms would’ve progressively worsened.

He said before the treatment he could not differentiate colors, read off the board in class, or find something he’d drop without assistance. Now, he can do all those things and has even resumed practicing his driving to get his learner’s permit.

“This experience has taught me to really enjoy the little things,” Renteria said. “We tend to take a lot of things for granted like being able to see or being able to drive.”

Now, Renteria has been able to continue excelling in his athletics, as well as his academics, with a weighted GPA of 92.4. He is passionate about wrestling and was thrilled to be able to continue competing as his vision improved.

He recently earned the varsity wrestling UIL District 1-6A title and placed second at the Region 1-6A tournament, which qualified him for his first trip to state. Next, he will participate in spring football as the Spartans’ starting nose guard.

Renteria said he was able to get through these difficult past couple of years with the help and support of his teachers, coaches, and teammates.

“My teachers were very supportive,” Renteria said. “They’d often give me extra time to complete homework or give me assignments with larger print. They were flexible in letting me change my seat so I could see the board better or sitting by a friend who could help me.”

Wrestling coach Carlos Paniagua said Renteria’s whole take on the situation has been inspiring both to him and the team.

“We went from asking ourselves ‘Why is this was happening to Gus?’ to speaking to him and understanding exactly why it was Gus, because he could handle this,” Paniagua said. “Gus never lost his vision. He always knew that he was going to get to where he is today.”

Renteria said he decided to share his story to help others who might be struggling with their own situations to realize that nothing is impossible and that you should never give up.

“You can choose to live with it, make the most of it, and adjust, or just give up,” Renteria said. “I felt that if I kept pushing on it was just going to result in a better life and that it was just up to me to make the most of what I have.”

Now, Renteria, who is currently in his junior year of high school, hopes to secure an athletic scholarship to go on to college and eventually join the Border Patrol.

As a proud Pebble Hills Spartan, Renteria is living proof of the high school’s mighty motto “Spartans Rise Above.”