Type 1 Diabetes: Dillon’s Story
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Dillon, 18, has always excelled at baseball. His pitching and hitting statistics are so impressive he has attracted the attention of both college recruiters and major league scouts. Dillon also happens to have type 1 diabetes. With treatment and diligent attention to his health, Dillon is able to manage his condition while playing baseball at the highest level.
Dillon has always had a passion for baseball. He was made captain of his high school’s baseball team as a sophomore, and he even led them into the state playoffs.
When he started preseason practice his junior year, his fastest pitches clocked at 92 mph. But as the season went on, he started to feel tired during games. His pitching speed began to drop. During strength training, he found himself struggling, even with lower weights. He was eating and working out vigorously, but found that he was losing weight.
“I was absolutely exhausted,” Dillon remembers.
As playoffs began at the end of the baseball season, he finally told his parents, Tammy and Jeff, that something was wrong, and asked to see a doctor. By then, he had lost 26 pounds, and he was constantly thirsty and tired. He went to the doctors where blood samples were drawn and sent for analysis.
In a follow-up visit after the blood draws, Dillon’s doctor gave the diagnosis: Dillon had type 1 diabetes. His blood sugar levels were dangerously high. The doctor advised that hospitalization at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) would be optimal.
Tammy and Jeff arranged for Dillon’s records to be sent to the Diabetes Center at CHOP, but he wasn’t quite ready to go. He was unwilling to let his team down by missing their regional and state playoff games. Recognizing Dillon’s commitment to his team, his doctor managed his care instead of putting him immediately into the hospital. Working with CHOP clinicians during the next week while he was in playoffs, he took the extraordinary step of putting Dillion on medication, a long-acting form of insulin in a conservative dose intended to bring his blood sugar levels down.
Dillon pitched seven innings in his team’s final game in the state playoffs. While he pitched, Tammy was in the stands on her phone with CHOP, making arrangements to bring him in as soon as possible. Dillon’s team lost, which, in retrospect, he realizes may have been a lucky thing for him.
“My pitches were down to 82 to 84 mph,” he says. “I had to use everything I had during the game.” Had the team won and gone further in the playoffs, his body might not have held up.
Dillon was admitted to CHOP the next day, where his medication doses were adjusted with careful monitoring to bring his blood sugar back into a healthy range. While he was an inpatient, his family had four days of classes in managing his diabetes.
The Diabetes Center is known for its industry-leading comprehensive team approach to managing diabetes. Its multidisciplinary team comprises specialists who help family members navigate all of the different issues they may face when treating diabetes.
Dillon credits those four days of education with turning things around and setting him on a path to renewed health.
“It was a ton of information to digest,” says Dillon. “And I was still working on accepting the fact that I had a disease.”
“Because of those four days and ongoing education at CHOP, I know more than some adults who have diabetes.”
Dillon learned how to monitor his blood glucose levels and administer his medication. He also learned about foods that could enhance or impact his athletic performance and how to time his meals and snacks. Members of the medical and education team also helped Dillon face his condition with confidence.
“They reassured me that it was going to be all right,” says Dillon. “They told me it was going to be a life-change, but it wasn’t going to define who I am.”
Dillon still had one piece of business to take care of. He had been recruited to the University of Kentucky’s baseball program, and he had made a verbal commitment to go there. He needed to let the coaches know about his diabetes.
“I was scared,” he remembers. “I didn’t know how they would respond.”
Dillon called them from the Hospital and explained what he had learned about his diabetes. He described how he would need to manage his condition before, during and after games. Dillon was pleasantly surprised by the coaches’ reaction — they were completely understanding and supportive.
“They told me they would do anything they could to help. I really couldn’t ask for anything more from them. A weight fell off my shoulders,” says Dillon.
Two weeks after leaving CHOP, Dillon was back on the baseball field, playing in a summer league that travelled through the southeastern states.
“I felt like a completely new person,” he says. “I knew what was going on. I knew how to treat it, how to take care of myself.”
Dillon’s play on the baseball field continued to improve while he managed his diabetes. It took time to rebuild his strength and stamina and to gain back the weight he had lost. But by the fall, he felt he was back to his old self.
Today, Dillon gets his insulin through an insulin pump and monitors his sugar level via a cordless continuous glucose monitor (CGM). He has learned how to keep his glucose levels in a healthy range during physical activity by paying attention to his food and fluid intake before, during and after training sessions and games. He also has snacks and juice on hand to increase his sugar levels if the CGM tells him they are dropping.
Dillon comes back to CHOP frequently to meet with his team at the Diabetes Center. A key member of that team has been Kenneth Rodenheiser, BSN, RN, CDE, CPT, a certified diabetes educator who is also an athlete.
Dillon is looking forward to a healthy baseball season for his senior year and beyond — in college and, hopefully, in the major leagues. His pitch velocity is back, and he continues to hone his control, which is already a strength.
Dillon has encouraging words for kids with diabetes who may feel apprehensive about playing sports with the disease.
“I now look at the diabetes as a positive,” he says. “You can do whatever you want. It’s just going to take more work. That’s my drive. People with diabetes can go to the major leagues. There’s Brandon Morrow with the Cubs. In the NFL there’s Jake Cutler. I want to inspire kids. I believe I was given this for a reason — to help other people.”
Dillon’s parents are impressed with the way he has taken his diabetes in stride. “He’s exceptional in ways that are greater than baseball,” says Tammy. “He’s a fantastic baseball player, but he’s so much more. He wants to help people. He always puts other people first.”
Tammy is also thankful to all the members of the Diabetes Center team at CHOP for their expert treatment and ongoing support. “I’m indebted to them beyond words,” says Tammy.
“All of them — the doctors, the nurses, the nutritionists — they go beyond what they need to do. You can tell they truly care about Dillon.”