Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute sports program a home run for teen with diabetes

Patient with Type 1 diagnosis is able to play baseball at his highest level with help from specialized diabetes program.

At 12 years old, Nathan King was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

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“At first it was really intimidating,” said Nathan, now a senior in high school. “It was just super overwhelming.”

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic disease that causes the pancreas to produce little or no insulin, which the body needs to turn blood sugar into energy. The diagnosis was quite a curveball for Nathan and his family, who now found themselves constantly monitoring his blood sugar level as well as food and insulin intake.

“It’s super scary at first. It’s like a punch in the gut,” said Nathan’s mom, Trina King. “When you start out, you’ve got all these calculations of, what did he eat, when is he eating and how much insulin is he getting. You’re scared to death that you’re going to give him too much or not enough.”

Out of all the lifestyle changes a Type 1 diagnosis can bring — Nathan had one main concern at the time.

“Can I still play baseball?”

Nathan started playing baseball at age 3, falling in love with the sport. It was a passion he didn’t want to give up.

“My main thing was if I can’t play baseball, I don’t know what I’m going do, because sports, especially baseball, have been my whole life,” Nathan said. “If I had to stop doing that, I would’ve been devastated.”

Not long after his diagnosis, Nathan started receiving care through Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute, a part of Norton Children’s Endocrinology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine. It offers an abundance of support and education to help patient families learn how to manage and live with the disease. The Christensen Family Sports & Activity Program helps patients maintain their participation in sports.

“The purpose of our sport and activity program is to keep our patients performing at their best level while staying safe as activity can cause swings in blood sugar levels,” said Brad Thrasher, D.O., pediatric endocrinologist with Norton Children’s Endocrinology and director of the Christensen Family and Sports & Activity program. “Low blood sugar levels can occur during or even after activity which is most concerning as low blood sugar can lead to seizures, potentially coma, and even death. On the other hand, if you’re staying too high for too long, you might not be performing at your best level. We want to provide our patients with the needed tools and resources to successfully manage their diabetes at all times.”

Nathan and others who take part in the program meet with an exercise physiologist and undergo a series of tests to measure body metrics and their cardiorespiratory fitness.

“It’s actually cool, because I get to go there and lift weights, run on a massive treadmill — it’s really fun,” Nathan said.

Doctors use results from those tests to create personalized workout and diet suggestions for each patient.

“The sports program is very helpful. Early on when playing sports after my diagnosis, my sugar levels would get super low during games, and they’ve given me a bunch of ways to manage that,” Nathan said. “They’ll give me feedback on what exercises I need to be doing, and what I should eat before a stressful game where my blood sugar may be extra high, things like that. It’s amazing the tailored advice they’re able to give you.”

The individualized assistance has allowed Nathan to continue to excel in baseball, and he’s hoping to play in college.

“Young people with Type 1 diabetes can go on to do whatever they want to do,” Dr. Thrasher said. “Whether it is to play at a professional level or work in another profession.”

That mindset is something Nathan can fully embrace, crediting Norton Children’s and the Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute’s specialized programs for setting him up for success.

“I don’t want diabetes to be something that defines me. It’s just a part of my life. I barely have to think about it anymore,” Nathan said. “It doesn’t stop me from doing anything. It doesn’t inhibit my abilities at all.”

Wendy Novak Diabetes Institute is part of the “Just Imagine” campaign, a visionary journey that will help bring better health to children throughout Kentucky, Southern Indiana and beyond. Give now at justimaginecampaign.com.