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Mark Andrews makes American football and diabetes a winning combination

How Continuous Glucose Monitoring has made it easier to play pro sports.


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Mark Andrews

Mark Andrews, 23, is an American football tight end for the Baltimore Ravens of the National Football League (NFL). Mark has been having a solid if not superb season according to recent US sports and news reporting. In fact, he’s been graded at the top.  How does he do it?  Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) as a young boy, he was driven to achieve his dream and play Pro Football.  We got a chance to speak to Mark about life with T1D, family and how technology has made it possible.

Firstly, Congratulations with all your success in the NFL!  I want to dive right in – do you want to be known as a great NFL player or a great NFL player with type 1 diabetes?

I want to be known as a great NFL player period, but I also want to be known as a great NFL player with type 1 diabetes, and I think that has to do with my lifelong dream of playing in the League.

When were you diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?  How did it change things?

When I developed T1D, I was 9 years old and there were symptoms. Like when I played sports, I couldn’t even make it through a whole game without having to go to the bathroom. Luckily enough, my dad is a doctor and he saw some signs. Shortly after I got tested, I found out I had developed the disease. Since then everything I have done in my life has been sports and diabetes focused. I’ve worked really hard at managing the two and they are incredibly important to me. My health is number one, sports, family and God. These are the priorities in my life.

What does the World Diabetes Day theme – Family and Diabetes – mean to you?

I look at that two ways. For me, having such a close-knit family – my siblings, my mom, my dad and the fact he is a doctor, I’ve relied on them so much for everything I do with my diabetes, so they’ve been able to teach me at a young age what to do and what not to do.  I believe my diabetes has bought my family closer together – even though we were very close to begin with – diabetes added another dimension.

Two, I can also talk about another diabetes family – all the people connected to diabetes.  In November I worked for National Diabetes Awareness Month to raise awareness through a social media campaign.  Every time a person took a selfie with an X on their finger to represent where a finger stick would go, and using the hashtag, #nomorefingerpricks, Dexcom (a company that develops, manufactures and distributes Continuous Glucose Monitoring (CGM) systems for diabetes management) donated one US dollar to the non-profit Beyond type 1.  Seeing all the images of people and families posting is so meaningful. It’s cool how the diabetes community – my other family – supports one another and type 1 diabetes.  Of course, it’s awesome not to have to finger stick for testing anymore!

As a young boy who loved sports, after you were diagnosed, did your medical team, and your parents advocate playing sports?

Well, overcoming barriers is something that has driven me my entire life.  And further, I do believe that everyone who has made it to the top of their profession, especially in sports, has a chip on their shoulder.  For me at a young age with my parents and the doctors saying I shouldn’t do this or that because of my diabetes, that I had to be careful – my whole goal throughout my life has been to prove to people and to help families understand that diabetes doesn’t define who you are or limit what you do with your life.  You have to follow your dreams.  I have lived with that chip on my shoulder, and now I hope I can be an inspiration to people with diabetes.

Can you talk a little about your journey with diabetes technology?

Two years after I got diagnosed with T1D, I got my first insulin pump.  I had to wait because the medical team didn’t want me to rely on technology at first, they wanted me to learn how to do all the shots and testing.  That first pump was incredibly big for me – I essentially use a similar one today.  Then I had a CGM, and I didn’t love it at the time and I was kind of sceptical. It wasn’t until college when I got a Dexcom that I absolutely loved how it helped me.  I got to share my CGM numbers with my family even though they are all the way across the other side of the US.  It was a huge comfort for me and them.  Having my numbers all the time, and having them accurate has changed my health, improved my way of life and ultimately helped me play football at a higher level.

How about on the field?

Yes, I use the CGM when I am on the field.  There are times when you’re forbidden to use a phone; you know, during a game. But because I have the device transmitter I am allowed to use it. I use it during games and I haven’t had any problems with it.

Having my numbers all the time, and having them accurate ultimately helped me play football at a higher level.

What does the CGM do for you at a game?  Reduce worry?

There’s so many questions on a game day, like what have I eaten, how am I feeling?  I am off my insulin pump for up to eight hours a day, so the CGM allows me to see (glucose) trends.  Am I going up, am I going down? I am off the pump for so long it puts my mind at ease.  If I know what my numbers are – I can just go out onto the field, relax and play.

You don’t wear an insulin pump on the field?

No, I just detach and take long-acting insulin on game days.

Did you have a favorite NFL player when you were growing up?

Having diabetes as a kid, well I always looked to Jay Cutler.  I remembered watching him play growing up and seeing him on the side lines, I wondered if his blood glucose was low or how things were going for him.  I was drawn to him because we have type 1 diabetes in common.

Before the NFL drafts, did type 1 diabetes come up in the talks about you?

All the teams did their due diligence making sure I was on top of my health.  Type 1 diabetes was something they were going to look at.  When I was going through the meeting with my doctors and all that good stuff, that was definitely a topic. But I am lucky that I was able to show them that, “I got this.” My Hba1c is 6.2%. After that, they understood that there was nothing to worry about. I got a lot of support for my diabetes.

For Ravens game days and in practice, what kind of precautions do you and your coaches take?  Do your teammates know?

My teammates are pretty much aware, and the coaches are aware for sure.  The trainers are incredibly diligent about checking you out.  The whole organization has been very friendly and kind to me in that sense. I have gotten very close to a teammate, Orlando Brown, Jr who follows my data on Dexcom.  It’s great, having people look out for you and feeling secure about my numbers – technology has changed my life.

I read that you eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches before the games, is that true?

I do! It may sound like a weird thing, but I have been looking for a complex carbohydrate I can depend on, and it just works.

Do you have a message for young people out there living with diabetes?

Kids and families who are dealing with this disease need to know how important It is to live every day to the fullest and do the most you can to be healthy.  Diabetes doesn’t define who you are — don’t let anyone tell you can’t do something!  Always follow your dreams, no matter what they may be.  You can achieve them!

Thank you, Mark Andrews!  Best wishes for a successful Ravens season!

 

Elizabeth Snouffer is Editor of Diabetes Voice

 

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