Diabetic kid turning hockey heads while overcoming Type 1 complications, News (Hamilton Jr Bulldogs)

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Diabetic kid turning hockey heads while overcoming Type 1 complications
Submitted By Scott Radley on Tuesday, October 30, 2007
The oversized nine-year-old with the quick feet isn't the only kid in the area with a big shot.

But listening to his coach talk about it certainly paints an impressive picture.

"He can take a wrist shot from centre ice and put it in the top corner," Derrick Stevens says.

The kid also isn't the only Grade 4 student who can throw a devastating bodycheck. But hearing his Hamilton Junior Bulldogs AAA minor atom coach tell how the boy consistently lowers his shoulder into other top players and flattens them, sounds amazing.

"He's an extremely good hockey player," Stevens says. "He's big and strong."

And he isn't the only youthful hockey player whose love of the game has no limit. But his coach's glowing words say much about his attitude and dedication.

"He's usually the first guy at the rink, and he's the only kid I know who gets upset if we cancel dry-land," Stevens says.

Impressive as all that is, is what really sets Riley MacRae apart.

He's made himself one of the best players in his league - which stretches from Brampton to Niagara Falls - while attached to an insulin pump that keeps him functioning on the ice.

Riley's a Type 1 diabetic. Has been since he was four.

More than a few times he's had the muscles in his legs tighten up and his head feel light during a game. Sometimes he'll all of a sudden lose his energy and instantly get tired. He calls it feeling low.

And over the past five years, he hasn't slept through the night even once, the result of having to test his blood every few hours with those horrible finger pricks, and the frequent urination caused by the disease.

"What he goes through ..." Stevens says, his sentence remaining unfinished.

It's a big part of the reason you don't find too many diabetics playing competitive sports.

For those of us without medical degrees, it goes something like this. Many diabetics need to inject insulin because their bodies can't generate it. At the same time, they need to offset it by eating a corresponding amount of complex carbohydrates.

Complicated? Yeah. Yet it gets worse.

Too much insulin floating around in a diabetic's body and he becomes hypoglycemic. Too little and his blood sugar soars. Both can be deadly.

Problem is, vigorous exercise causes the body to create glycogen - a blood sugar - so finding the right balance is a difficult and potentially dangerous job.

Then to top it off, throw in the unpredictable effects of adrenalin that also cause sugar spikes.

It's all tough enough to sort out for an adult. Now imagine doing it at age nine. But he does.

He's not alone. According to Dr. John VanderMeulen, head of McMaster's pediatric endocrinology department, more than 300 kids in the Hamilton area use the pump, though few at such a competitive level of sports.

Even with it, Riley's dad Rob - who also serves as team trainer so he's always nearby in the event of an emergency - keeps a close eye on him during ice times, to make sure things stay stable.

But the biggest help is that little device tucked inside the waistband of his hockey pants, which regulates how much insulin enters his body, and delivers it bit by bit.

It's not a foolproof system as evidenced by the lows he gets. And it has come loose in the middle of the action before. But it's a huge step over the hit and miss of injections.

Considering how relatively new this technology is and how rare it remains, it's remarkable that one of his hockey heroes - Ajay Baines, who's also diabetic and also wears a pump when he plays - plays for the Hamilton Bulldogs. Same uniform. Same position. Same passion for the game. Same device.

Seeing a pro going through the same thing and succeeding has been a huge inspiration to the young man. Which, in turn, has been big for the guy who scored the Calder Cup-winning goal last spring.

"For him to say he looks up to me for that, that means so much to me," Baines says.

For the Dogs' co-captain, the fact that a kid is wearing the pump and doing so well is remarkable. Because no matter how easy dealing with the disease may appear to someone looking in, it's not. There's never a comfort level. You don't control diabetes, you merely manage it.

It can be done. Baines does it. Bobby Clarke did it. Now Riley hopes to do it all the way to the NHL - "With the Leafs."

For now, though, just being able to play is enough.

[email protected]


4th Auction For The Cure

Next Thursday, the fourth annual Auction For The Cure goes at Michelangelo Banquet Centre, with proceeds going to diabetes research. Riley McRae's dad, Rob, organizes the event, which raised $93,000 last year. It has brought in $297,000 since it started through a silent and live auction. For tickets or information, email [email protected]

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