Adam Duvall: A T1D Story

Adam Duvall has 79 HR since the start of 2016 – that’s more than Bryce Harper. He has 263 RBI since then as well, 10th most in the majors. He has a top 25 in MLB ISO (Isolated Power: SLG – AVG) over the last 2-1/2 seasons – .233, same as Manny Machado. He has an All-Star game selection and a Home Run Derby semi-final appearance. He has 2 Gold Glove finalist selections.

He also has diabetes.

No, not the kind your grandpa gets because he’s old and overweight. Not the kind of diabetes that Wilford Brimley refers to as “diabeetus” in those commercials from the 90s that came on during The Price is Right. That’s Type-2 diabetes. Adam Duvall has Type-1 diabetes (T1D), also known as juvenile diabetes, and so do I. Here’s my T1D story:

I was in my 4th semester at Georgia Tech. It was a Monday and I was returning to campus from my girlfriend’s house at Auburn. It had been another sleepless night b/c I had gotten up to pee at least 4 times. I was thirsting so badly that I had to stop twice on the drive back to get sodas/sports drinks from convenience stores. I would down them in the first mile back on the road.

I parked where I usually do, near the ME building, and walked completely across campus to my class (I don’t remember what the class was, it was in a building near the library). It was less than a 10 minute walk, but I felt like I had just run a marathon. One of my friends was in my class and said “Man, you look like hell.” I said I didn’t feel great either & wasn’t sure what was up. He said I should go to the infirmary and I said I would after class.

I struggled thru class, barely able to concentrate. My vision was blurry and all I wanted to do was go to sleep, I was so exhausted. I’d lost a bunch of weight since finals the previous semester – something like 35 pounds in 3 months. I just thought it was stress that was screwing up my eating habits. After class, I made the trek back across campus towards the infirmary, stopping along the way at a vending machine in the ME building for a Powerade. I chugged it down and headed up the hill to the clinic.

Before I could make it up the hill (just a few minute walk), I had to step off the sidewalk and I threw up the entire bottle of Powerade I had just downed. I got to the infirmary, told them I didn’t feel well, described my symptoms, and they said that I was just exhausted and needed to get some rest. I said I had just thrown up outside the building and they said “That changes things, we’ll check you out.” They had me pee in a cup and then I waited in a room. A few minutes later, the nurse came in and said “We think you have diabetes. You should go to the ER at Piedmont Medical Center.”

I left the infirmary pretty much in a complete daze. Diabetes? How could I have diabetes? I’m a 22 yr-old, healthy college kid. I walked back to my car and called my parents to get directions to Piedmont. I think they were just as shocked as I was. I tried to keep from crying, but I wasn’t able to. My dad helped calm me down & gave me the directions I needed & said they’d be on their way ASAP (from South Carolina, 4-1/2 hrs away). Then I called my girlfriend and told her I was going to the ER with the possibility that I had diabetes. She said she’d be on her way once she was done with classes for the day (she was in grad school at Auburn).

I got to the ER, barely. I should have gotten someone to drive me, but in my daze I couldn’t think of anyone to call to take me. I checked in and said the GT infirmary told me to come because they think I have diabetes. They took my info and a finger stick to test my blood sugar and told me to head to the waiting room.

A little while later, my uncle showed up. He worked very close to the hospital and, as I found out later, my dad had called him as soon as I got off the phone with him, and told my uncle to meet me at the ER. He waited with me for the night.

I hadn’t eaten much that day and was hungry so I borrowed some change from my uncle to get some crackers from a vending machine. My mouth was so dry that I could barely eat a single one. Eating one of them was like trying to do the saltine cracker challenge.

I was eventually taken to an ER bed where they hooked me up to an insulin IV for the night. I still wasn’t really sure what was going on or why this had happened. My parents & girlfriend showed up later that night & stayed with me as long as they were allowed. Nurses came in every half hour for the entire night to prick my finger to test my blood sugar.

The next morning, Feb 1, 2006, an endocrinologist met with me & my parents to tell us about my new condition and “officially” diagnose my as a Type-1 diabetic. He told me that when the ER tested my blood sugar from that first finger stick when I arrived, it was 840. A normal blood sugar is around 100. I was just a few minutes away from a diabetic coma. I don’t recall a lot about that meeting, but I do recall a question my dad asked the doctor. He said “Doc, why does this happen to a perfectly healthy, 22-year college kid?” The doctor said bluntly “If we knew that, we could prevent it.” Quite sobering.

My girlfriend, parents and I, also met with a diabetes educator to learn about the treatment of my new condition. I won’t go into details, but my life as I knew it was over. I could never eat anything again without thinking about how many carbohydrates were in the food or how much insulin I would have to take. My girlfriend took it all in and was my savior for the the whole thing. She would come to my place in Atlanta, and would prepare 2-3 weeks worth of meals that I could freeze. We worked together to count the carbs so I knew exactly how much insulin I would need for each meal.

I have now lived with this condition for 12 years. In that time, I graduated from Georgia Tech, moved to Richmond, VA, got a great job, married the love of my life (the aforementioned girlfriend), built a house, and had 2 amazing kids. I wear an insulin pump to treat my condition. It’s a pager-sized device that I clip to my belt that delivers insulin into my body 24/7/365. It’s basically my lifeline – without it, I would die.

I wouldn’t wish his disease on my worst enemy. I’m scared s***less that one day, one of my children will start to show some of the same symptoms that I experienced 12-1/2 years ago. There is no cure for Type-1 diabetes. There are only treatments. Advances in the treatment of T1D have come a long way in the last few years and it’s very possible an artificial pancreas will be available by the end of this decade. I’m waiting anxiously for that day.

Adam Duvall went through all this at age 23 as a High-A baseball player. He lost 20 pounds in 2 months, couldn’t lift weights without getting light-headed, couldn’t sleep because he was waking 5-6 times a night to pee. When he was finally diagnosed during Spring Training in 2012, he probably could have said “Man, there’s no way I can keep playing high-level baseball with a condition that screws with my body 24/7.” But he didn’t. He said “OK, where do we go, what do we do now, and just take care of it.”

Imagine having to think about the amount of carbohydrates you’re putting into your body every single time you eat anything at all. Now consider having to worry about the possibility of blacking out when you work out (something that did happen to me once) or when you train to stay in shape to play major league baseball, a grueling, 8-month grind through the heat of the summer that most fans can’t even contemplate fully. Imagine those things being in the back of your mind when you’re in the batter’s box facing 98 mph heat and knee-buckling breaking balls. That’s what Adam Duvall does every single day. He wears an insulin pump while he’s playing – it’s usually in his back pocket, protected by the same type of stuff bicycle helmets are made of. It delivers life-saving insulin 24/7, whether he’s bashing home runs or sliding in the outfield grass to make a run-saving catch.

There are many reasons why fans choose a favorite baseball player. Maybe they signed a baseball for them & were really nice to them on the occasion when they met. Maybe they’re an under-rated grinder, a quiet leader that hits nothing but singles (which are actually mostly doubles). Maybe they’re a cerebral pitcher who doesn’t dazzle with velocity but baffles with location, movement, & sequencing. Coming into this season, Adam Duvall was my favorite “non-Brave” baseball player because I relate to him for the struggles I went through when I was diagnosed with diabetes and the way the disease has radically changed my entire life and will forever. He went through the same experience and is now playing the game I love at the highest level for the team I’ve loved for my entire 35-year life. He could hit like Emilio Bonifacio and I wouldn’t care – he’s Adam Duvall and he’s what T1D looks like.

For more on Duvall’s story, read here. For more info on Type-1 diabetes and the on-going research in the treatment of the disease, please visit http://www.jdrf.org/.

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