Raising a Child with Diabetes: The Athlete

I don’t know many mothers who don’t know exactly when they found out they were pregnant. I was no exception. I was nervous and scared, but after a few weeks the news was finally shared with my family and friends, and all I could thing about was the little boy I’d always wanted. I am such a football fan. I will watch football at all levels. I wanted so badly to be a football mom. When I got the news at our sonogram appointment, I was elated! I was having a baby boy.

When that little boy was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the young age of seven, I was worried that my little athlete wouldn’t be able to continue to compete.

It was a question I asked his doctors before he was discharged at the end of our hospital stay. My son had already had a few seasons of basketball, baseball and pee-wee soccer. We were all relieved when the doctor told us that the physical activity would be a good way to help manage his diabetes.

Putting coaches in charge

It wasn’t until the fourth grade that we were faced with a new challenge with his sports. For each sport my son played my husband would volunteer to coach when given the opportunity and back then practices were open to spectators. Fall of fourth grade year my son could sign up to play in our local Junior Football League. That was the first time my husband and I would have to educate the coaching staff of basic diabetes first aid.

Through nine years of sports seasons we met with at least two dozen coaches and athletic trainers on the first day of practice to talk about our son’s diagnosis and what it would mean for him as a part of the team. We discovered that talking with them before the season started put their mind at ease as much as it did ours. We answered any questions they had and these five things were always at the top of the list to go over:

  • Signs of a low blood sugar – dizziness, being combative, slurring of words
  • Steps he should take if a low blood sugar occurred
  • He MIGHT have to sit out if his blood sugar dropped too low.
  • How to operate a glucagon kit, or emergency kit in case of hypoglycemic episodes
  • And most importantly, that he was no different than any other player on the field or court and should be treated equally

Being ready for anything

As my son grew and his body changed, we learned that exercise is good for a child with diabetes and that different sports have different effects on blood glucose levels. During football season, we discovered that when he practiced or had a game his blood sugars would go up with the increase of adrenaline running through his body. The short bursts of energy used during a game really gets a body going. Basketball is non-stop action so it would cause his blood sugars to go down quickly. He always went to practice with Gatorade or glucose tablets. With the slower laid back pace of baseball his blood sugars stayed steady for the most part, but with practice right after school he did still need a snack to keep his blood sugar from dropping toward the end of practice.

 

It wasn’t an easy task to be prepared with snacks and/or glucose tablets, insulin, and supplies all the time. No matter how prepared we thought we were there have still been times when we had to make a quick trip to the concession stand for a candy bar when his game was affected. Once we were at a basketball game far from home and my son’s insulin pump failed right before the tip-off. We were caught an hour away from home without any insulin with us. Since his trend during basketball was to have his blood sugar go down, we allowed him to start playing. As the game went on his blood sugar kept going up. We had to make the decision that was best for his health, which was take him out of the game and get him home as quickly as possible. That was the last time we were caught in a situation like that. That was a hard lesson for him and us. Lesson learned.

Season after season

My son was a three-sport-athlete from kindergarten through senior year of high school. Even after he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes he never thought for a second about giving up. He learned to deal with highs and lows and keep going and didn’t give up on himself or his team. He performed his best and relied on his team when needed, especially with injuries lie a broken arm, a sprained neck, and broken shoulder. His senior year he was the captain of the basketball team, was recognized as a scholar athlete by our conference and received the Army Scholar Athlete Award by our local Armory. His perseverance paid off.

My son learned at the young age of seven that when you come upon a hurdle in life you don’t let it deter you from what you want to do. In my next blog, I’ll talk about the time when he realized that having Type 1 diabetes could actually prevent him from doing things in life.

Are you the parent of a child with a medical condition? What do you never leave home without? Tell us about it in the comments.

Presented by: Tamara Martin

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