TAMPA — Six-year-old Andrew Cordovez's eyes lit up at the sight of the visitor joining him in the examination room on Monday morning. It was none other than Tampa Bay Rays' star outfielder — and fellow diabetes sufferer — Sam Fuld.
"That was cool," said Andrew, holding an autographed photo and baseball, and accompanied by his parents, Jessica and Antonio Cordovez of Sarasota. "He's a really good player."
Andrew was one of several young patients Fuld met during his two-hour tour of the University of South Florida's new diabetes center, a 10,000-square-foot facility that opened last month in the Carol & Frank Morsani Center for Advanced Healthcare.
University officials see the center as a key part of their effort to become a national leader in research, education and treatment of a disease that afflicts more than 23 million Americans of all ages.
Dr. Stephen Klasko, dean of the USF College of Medicine, said the university has already become a leader in diabetes research, attracting more than $400 million to study the disease, but it lacked a clinical center. The $2 million center was paid for with donations and university funds.
Fuld's visit drew an esteemed group that included Klasko, USF President Judy Genshaft and the two men who head the center, Drs. Jeffrey Krischer and Henry Rodriguez. All wore Rays jerseys for the occasion, as did many others in attendance.
Fuld, clad in a dark-blue polo shirt and khaki pants, was accompanied by his wife, Sarah, and 20-month-old son, Charlie. Charlie does not have diabetes, though Sarah Fuld pointed out that he is at increased risk to get it because of his father.
"It's a cause near and dear to my heart," said Fuld, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was 10.
Diabetes is a disease in which the body fails to produce insulin to properly control blood sugar. More of those who have it in the United States have Type 2, once known as adult-onset, often associated with obesity. About 5 to 10 percent have the more severe Type 1, whose cause is unknown.
Fuld is living proof of what can be accomplished if the disease is managed properly. The 29-year-old has attracted wide attention and gained many fans in his first season with the Rays for his diving catches and other hustling plays.
But what many might not know is that he does this while checking his blood-sugar level six to seven times a day, including two to three times during games. He gives himself insulin shots four to five times a day.
Fuld is among a host of top athletes who have achieved success despite having the disease. Others include Indy race car driver Charlie Kimball, NFL quarterback Jay Cutler, Olympic swimming gold medalist Gary Hall Jr., and tennis Hall of Famers Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King.
Fuld's story was comforting to young Andrew's mother, Jessica Cordova.
"I do worry," she said of her son's interest in playing soccer and baseball. "But I know now that if his diabetes is well-managed, he'll be fine."
Richard Martin can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3322.