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Byrne regulates diabetes with team's help

10/28/2013

HOUSTON -- Houston Texans tight end Jake Byrne pulled his pads out of his locker to show a contraption built into them that holds his insulin pump when he plays or practices.

Since he was 15 years old, he's been learning how to handle his Type 1 diabetes and keep playing football despite it. Experimentation has helped, as has the support of teams for which he's played.

"I was scared at first," said Byrne. "When I first found out that I had it, I really didn’t know what it was and what all that meant. The first thing I started freaking out like I can’t do everything I’ve always wanted to do. I can’t do my dream job and that was playing football. I had to figure out that it was doable."

Byrne spent training camp with the Texans then was released when the season opening roster was set. He returned, plucked back from the Chargers practice squad, after the Texans' starting tight end Owen Daniels suffered a fractured fibula. Byrne became the team's third tight end, after Garrett Graham and rookie Ryan Griffin.

Byrne wears an insulin pump during practices, as he has since college. The team's trainers help him check his blood sugar levels.

"I can tell how I’m doing," he said. "The biggest thing is if I feel fatigued or out of it. If I start having a bad play or two, then I’m like, well, hang on. I’ve kind of noticed after so long what I need to do. It’s like a trial and error. Just getting used to it is the biggest thing."

His diagnosis at 15 followed significant amounts of weight loss and constant feelings of sluggishness and dehydration. Recalling his own fears and how little he knew before his diagnosis, Byrne is active in trying to help others.

Like when a young Wisconsin fan, Joey Balistrieri, asked for Byrne's help when he was playing with the Badgers. Balistrieri also had diabetes and needed to convince his mother it was OK for him to play football. Their story became well known in Wisconsin.

"There’s a couple other kids that have reached out like, 'hey, what do you do?'" Byrne said. "Little things here and there. 'Do you play with your pump? What do you use?' There’s just not a lot of stuff out there of how to play sports. What I’ve done is kind of share."