Tough Opponent, Even Tougher Kids
By Nathan Clinkenbeard
During baseball season, it’s not unusual for 12-year-old Alexander Herd to come face-to-face with umpires telling him to take his cell phone off.
What the umpires do not know is that Alexander is a Type 1 diabetic, and that “cell phone” is actually an insulin pump he has to wear to monitor his blood sugar levels. With a smile, Alexander kindly educates the umpires about what he’s wearing on his belt.
Alexander was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes (Juvenile Diabetes) on March 10, 2009 at 9 years old. It was his unquenchable thirst a couple weeks prior that had his parents first concerned.
“I had been drinking a lot of Cokes over and over, and no matter what I had drunk I kept wanting more and more,” Alexander said. “I couldn’t get enough to drink.”
Upon having his sugar tested, he was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee where his life was about to change within a week. When he was released, Alexander was giving himself four insulin shots a day, and six months later he was approved for an insulin pump.
Despite being diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, nothing was going to slow down Alexander from playing the sport he loves the most — baseball. He plays for the East Tennessee Flames out of Knoxville, and his favorite position is catcher.
When he’s out on the field, Alexander leaves his insulin pump on, and he has to check his sugar before every game and halfway through. He drinks plenty of water, especially when there is a high reading, and if it’s low he chews glucose tabs in the dugout.
Alexander refuses to let the disease keep him from playing baseball, basketball or any of the other things he enjoys doing as an active kid.
“Usually when I play baseball I just let everything else go and play the game I’m supposed to play,” Alexander said. “I do what I’m supposed to do. It just doesn’t bother me at all. Of course I’ve been called names and stuff, but when I play baseball it just all goes away.”
Alexander has met many baseball players over the years as a regular attendee of Tennessee Smokies games, the Chicago Cubs Double-A affiliate. One player he’s become close to is Sam Fuld, an outfielder with the Tampa Bay Rays and also a Type 1 diabetic. Fuld always tells his young friend to stay strong and to keep taking care of himself.
Besides pro players like Fuld, Alexander has also met other Type 1 diabetics on opposing teams.
“I went to a tournament and met a kid that we played against,” Alexander said. “He came over to me after the game and said ‘Hey, are you a diabetic?’ And I said ‘Yeah.’ And he goes ‘OK, I noticed your pump. I’m diabetic too.’ So we just sat there and talked about what we did.”
Just a Normal Kid
On the other side of the country, Matthew Erickson has Type 1 Diabetes just like Alexander Herd. Matthew is also 12 years old, and he plays second base and right field for FEBA California, a travel team for the American Legion.
Matthew was diagnosed about six years ago when he was 7, but he was able to control his blood sugar without much insulin for about three months just by diet and exercise. As he started growing, however, he needed more insulin.
Besides baseball, Matthew was very active in soccer, but it was difficult to manage with the continuous running. He made the decision to stick to baseball, his favorite sport.
During a baseball game, Matthew also wears an insulin pump, and he tests his blood sugar between innings so he can adjust how much insulin goes in. Pitching can sometimes be an added challenge with the stress involved. Stress can increase blood sugar levels requiring more insulin.
Matthew does not see his diabetes as a challenge or something that holds him back. He’s just a normal kid who loves the San Francisco Giants, wants to go to college at Oregon or Stanford and has dreams of playing in the majors.
“It’s not really difficult, and it’s not concerning really,” Matthew said. “I can pretty much be normal but I may have to eat sugar or take a little insulin.”
Matthew and Alexander both have to check their blood sugar multiple times a day, sometimes as many as 10. They check before meals, before snack, when they wake up, when they go to bed and other various times throughout a normal day.
Spreading the Word
To help spread awareness about Juvenile Diabetes, Alexander has started making and selling survivor bracelets with the proceeds going to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
Alexander was inspired late one evening when he noticed a story on the Disney Channel about a kid who did a walk around the Washington Nationals ballpark for diabetes. He received permission from his school board to sell the bracelets, and now Alexander is doing what he can to make people aware of the disease while raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation.
In addition to the awareness and the fundraising, Alexander is always ready to offer some advice to others.
Said Alexander: “It’s a disease that can slow you down sometimes, but just stay strong, do what you do, and take care of yourself.”
There’s no device that can measure the courage and strength of kids like Alexander Herd and Matthew Erickson, who don’t let Type 1 Diabetes stand in the way of their desire to play the game they love.
If there were such a device, the reading would be off the charts.
What You Should Know About Type 1 Diabetes
What is it?
Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells. While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved. Its beginning has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent T1D, and currently there is no cure.
How is it monitored?
Living with T1D is a constant challenge. People with the disease must carefully balance insulin doses (either by injections multiple times a day or continuous infusion through a pump) with eating and daily activities throughout the day and night. They must also test their blood sugar by pricking their fingers for blood six or more times a day. Despite this constant attention, people with T1D still run the risk of dangerous high or low blood sugar levels, both of which can be life-threatening. People with T1D overcome these challenges on a daily basis.
*As many as three million Americans may have Type 1 Diabetes.
*Approximately 80 people a day are diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes in the United States.
*The rate of Type 1 Diabetes incidence among children under the age of 14 is estimated to increase by 3% annually worldwide.
*Facts and statistics courtesy of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation