Finding out you have type 1 diabetes — an incurable condition that means a lifetime of vigilance — can be devastating both emotionally and physically. Now, a new report finds that children who get this diagnosis also may suffer educationally and financially into adulthood.
Yale University researchers examined a health behavior survey that followed 15,000 middle and high school students through young adulthood, between 1994 and 2008. They found that the high school dropout rate among those with diabetes was 6 percentage points higher than those without the disease.
By their early 30s, diabetics were 10 percentage points less likely to be employed. Those who were made an average of $6,000 less annually than their non-diabetic peers, according to the report published in the journal Health Affairs.
The gloomy findings don't surprise one man who has lived with the condition since age 10, Tampa Bay Rays outfielder, Sam Fuld.
"I know how difficult the treatment can be. Dealing with (diabetes) on a daily basis is a challenge," said Fuld, 30, who became a fan favorite last year for the spectacular, acrobatic catches that earned him the nickname Super Sam. What fans don't see is that he checks his blood-sugar level six to seven times a day, including two to three times during games, and gives himself four to five insulin shots a day.
"But I also know what a help it was for me to meet people who are succeeding with type 1 diabetes, providing inspiration."
So Fuld is organizing a sports camp for children with type 1 diabetes at the University of South Florida in Tampa next month. It will be led by professional and college athletes, all of whom have type 1 diabetes.
"The more positive role models there are, the better off kids with diabetes are going to be," said Fuld from his home in Jupiter.
Children and young adults with diabetes most commonly have type 1 (once known as juvenile diabetes), in which the body doesn't produce insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugars and starches into energy. They must learn to test their blood sugar throughout the day, inject insulin, and follow a careful regimen of diet, exercise and other lifestyle measures to control the condition.
(Type 2 diabetes, which is more common and less serious, affects mostly adults, although more children are being diagnosed as obesity rates rise.)
Fuld's sports camp has its roots in a visit he made last August with young patients at the USF Diabetes Center, shortly after the new facility opened in the Carol & Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare in Tampa. He says he was so impressed with what he saw there, he intends to keep working with USF even if he were to be traded to another team.
Fuld frequently talks to youngsters with the condition to share his story. He credits the support of family members, friends, health care providers and fellow athletes with propelling him through his school years into Major League Baseball.
"I got the message early on that (diabetes) is not a hindrance, as long as you stay on top of it and are conscientious with it," Fuld said.
"I have always been realistic. I'm not getting rid of this. So I looked at it as a challenge and how well I regulate this disease will prove any doubters wrong."
The camp, for bay area youngsters and teens, is being held in partnership with USF Athletics, the USF Diabetes Center and the Tampa Bay Rays. Nine instructors will lead clinics in baseball and softball, basketball, football, soccer, tennis and cheerleading.
Coaches can participate in a two-hour clinic to learn more about diabetes, how to coach kids who have it and how to recognize and handle symptoms and emergencies.
"It's rare that something will come up, but it's a reality," said Fuld. "They need to know what to expect and what to do so they don't have to be scared to have a diabetic kid on their team." Fuld said it may mean offering an athlete a juice box, a cereal bar, or a few minutes to sit out or check blood sugar.
"Other than that we're like any other athlete," said Fuld.
And though many young diabetics try to hide their condition from others, Fuld says he's not shy about testing his blood sugar or giving himself insulin in front of people.
"If anything,'' he said, "it starts a conversation and furthers diabetes education."
Irene Maher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.