WAR ON DIABETES: For high school athletes, managing diabetes can be stressful, dangerous
Saturday, November 10, 2012
by Joseph Kairalla
The nurse entered the examination room and asked what she thought was a harmless question, simply following up on an assumption she’d made after looking at Teresa Cioffoletti’s patient information.
“Teresa’s diabetic, right?”
Teresa and her mother Joann were, for lack of a better descriptive word, shocked. No, Joann recalled saying, before listening to the nurse and her daughter’s pediatrician lay out a convincing case that Teresa did, in fact, have type 1 diabetes, a hereditary disease an estimated 15,000 young people in the United States are diagnosed with each year.
Bloodwork backed up the nurse’s hunch, and the disease changed the trajectory of Teresa’s budding dance and cheerleading career. But six years later, 15-year-old Teresa, like so many other young people fighting diabetes, has figured out a way to lead an active lifestyle. She’s a member of Seminole Ridge High’s competitive cheerleading squad, which placed third in the classification’s state championships last spring, and she still attends dance school.
That’s how diabetes affects today’s young student-athletes. They must balance the same stressful homework, practices, games, and social lives as their peers, while carrying the weight of a voracious battle with their condition.
Teresa’s daily struggle is type 1 diabetes, which is not preventable. But 95 percent of new diabetes diagnoses are type 2, which is preventable with the proper diet and exercise. Type 2, which has been exploding among young people — at a rate double that of type 1 diagnoses — threatens to create the first generation that will not outlive their parents, according to health authorities.
Diabetes, be it type 1 or type 2, doesn’t go away. It doesn’t hide. And those who want to excel in sports must accept the fight against it.
“She’s really not different from any other kid at all,” Joann Cioffoletti said. “You have to make people aware of what you’re dealing with, but it certainly doesn’t mean you have to stop doing things.”
Teresa agreed, saying, “It’s not as hard to understand now as it was when everything first happened.”
She goes on to explain her daily routine: “Before I leave home for school, I check myself and take insulin with breakfast. I check again before lunchtime and before practice after school. I take as much (insulin) as I need. Then I do the same thing at dinner and before bed.”
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation says type 1 diabetes strikes both children and adults, and as it comes on usually unexpectedly and suddenly, it “carries the constant threat of devastating complications.” Cioffoletti, American Heritage alum Brett Schneider, Palm Beach Lakes High football player Oshaye Rawls and Park Vista High’s Austin Navalany have eerily similar stories.
Brett felt sluggish last November before his diabetes diagnosis. The disease runs in his family.
“I didn’t eat a lot of sweets or anything,” he said. “Most people think it’s how much sugar you eat. It’s not. It’s about the carbohydrates.”
While trying to get his diabetes under control, he lost 40 pounds. Dizziness and weakness sapped his workouts. Coaches were excited about Brett, a 6-foot, 240-pound right-hander and first baseman. But instead of watching his velocity, American Heritage coach Carm Mazza had to watch the color of Brett’s face and energy level.
“There were a couple times in the beginning where we’d say, ‘You don’t look too well’ and we’d sit him down,” Mazza said. “We’d give him the day off. We were tuned into it.”
Teresa speaks once a day with the school nurse at Seminole Ridge, and her cheerleading coaches and athletic trainers frequently check in on her status. Austin, a sophomore on Park Vista’s football team, has the same setup with his coaches. Like Brett, they have routines that prevent traumatic incidents — or at least help them stay in tune with their bodies. It’s an acquired process that requires constant adaptation.
Oshaye, a 16-year-old junior running back at Palm Beach Lakes, checks his blood sugar regularly, but on rare occasions, he slips up. Early last Monday morning, he had a diabetic seizure. He missed a Monday night football game and practice on Tuesday. He pushed through headaches to return to practice Wednesday, and he acknowledges he has to take greater responsibility if he wants to achieve his goal of playing at Georgia State University.
“You’re on your own in college,” Oshaye said. “If I have a seizure, that’s going to be my own fault. You have to be on top of things. I’m pretty sure I will be.”
Seminole Ridge High School cheerleader Teresa Cioffoletti (center), 15, The Acreage, warms up with her team at a competition at John I. Leonard High School in Greenacres, Saturday, November 10, 2012. (Thomas Cordy/The Palm Beach Post)