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Keeping it under control

By Staff | Mar 21, 2014

(Lori Grondvold/PCT) Rugby’s Brad Heidlebaugh goes up for a dunk during the State Class B Basketball tournament in Grand Forks.

Rugby High School junior Brad Heidlebaugh has been an athlete since he was a little kid, playing basketball with a Little Tikes hoop.

Before a big game, be it football, basketball or even track & field, he finds a quiet place, listens to music and gets mentally and physically focused for the activity at hand.

“You have to have your mind in it as well as your body,” Heidlebaugh said.

He also monitors his blood sugar. Throughout the day, and sometimes after eating, he gets a dose of insulin from a pump he keeps in close proximity.

Heidlebaugh has Type 1 Diabetes mellitus. He was diagnosed when he was 10 years old, following a summer trip.

(Bryce Berginski/PCT) Brad Heidlebaugh administers a dose of insulin via a pump. Despite having Type 1 diabetes, Heidlebaugh has become a talented multi-sport athlete.

“We were coming home from my grandpa’s lake cabin in Minnesota, and I had to stop and go to the bathroom every 30 minutes,” Heidlebaugh said. “My mom figured out that something was wrong. We went to the lab, I got tested and found out I had diabetes.”

Brad’s father, Mike, said: “Our initial reaction was a whole range of emotions: surprise, shock to anger, sadness. We were scared, we didn’t know what would happen and we didn’t know about [diabetes at the time].”

There are many types of diabetes, a condition characterized by high blood sugar. Symptoms of diabetes include increased urination, hunger and thirst, and weight loss. Diabetes also has nasty complications if left unchecked, including blood vessel, nerve and kidney damage. While manageable, there is currently no cure for any form of it.

With type 1 diabetes, cells in the pancreas can’t naturally produce the insulin necessary to convert sugar into energy. According to a WebMD guide, type 1 diabetes affects one percent of the U.S. population, and one in 500 kids or adolescents has it.

According to the American Diabetes Association, an estimated 26 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, but only 19 million of them are diagnosed. Of that number, 215,000 affected are younger than 20 years old.

Other types include type 2 diabetes-the body can make insulin, but it either doesn’t make enough or can’t use it properly; and gestational diabetes-high blood sugar that occurs during pregnancy. Type 2 is the most prevalent, accounting for over 90 percent of diabetes cases.

Heidlebaugh is one of several athletes with diabetes. The list also includes tennis champion Billie Jean King, boxer Joe Frazier, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and Jacksonville Jaguars lineman and defensive tackle Kyle Love.

For the most part, Heidlebaugh keeps his blood sugar levels and his diabetes in check.

“You feel kind of different when your blood sugar is low or high,” Heidlebaugh said. “When you’re low you usually feel dizzy and kind of loopy. I’ve blacked out one time because I’ve been too low.

“When you get high you feel really fatigued. You just feel dead, you’re really dehydrated. One time my pump for some reason wasn’t pumping insulin, so my blood sugar went through the roof. You can’t even stand because you’re so weak and your feet burn, the nerves on your feet feel like they are on fire. It’s kind of weird both ways. I usually try not to get to those extremes, but sometimes you’re gonna get to those extremes and you just gotta know what to do.”

Despite diabetes, Heidlebaugh has managed to become a talented multi-sport athlete. In football last year he scored nine touchdowns, was 17 for 20 in extra points and had 395 rushing yards. In basketball he averages about 24 points per game. This spring he will throw, jump and run for the track & field team.

“People can manage it and live long, healthy lives,” Mike Heidlebaugh said.

Brad Heidlebaugh said having diabetes is daunting at first, but it gets easier.

“It’s another challenge that I’ve had in my life that God has given to me,” he said.

His diabetes isn’t likely to slow him down anytime soon. In the future, he plans to play basketball or football in college, and maybe become a coach.

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