Wednesday, April 1, 2009
M's Morrow, Lowe living with diabetes
PEORIA, Ariz. -- Mark Lowe never thought he would have as many doctors and specialists to see as pitches he throws.
That's life when you're a newly diagnosed Type 1 diabetic and in the beginning stages of taking insulin every day.
Yet one of the most important figures helping Lowe acclimate to dealing with his condition doesn't have a Ph.D., or any special background in nutrition. He's a skinny right-hander like Lowe who sits just a few stalls away in the Seattle Mariners clubhouse.
"Brandon has been through it and can watch over it," Mariners trainer Rick Griffin said. "That helps me a lot."
Brandon Morrow knows exactly what Lowe is experiencing: the multiple times each day he takes a small needle and pricks the tip of his finger to test his blood glucose, or sugar, levels; the subsequent insulin shots that help his body respond properly to his sugar levels; the feelings of lethargy when his body bottoms out.
So while Lowe has a trainer, a team doctor, a team nutritionist, an endocrinologist and is trying to set up appointments with a diabetes-specific nutritionist, his greatest resource is his bullpen mate just a few feet away.
"There's a lot of things I have learned from him, how many units to give yourself when you're at this level or that," Lowe said. "It's good to have someone here who's been through it for a long time."
It was a year ago while getting normal pre-spring training blood work done that Lowe first got indications he might be diabetic. His glucose levels were high in multiple tests and he was initially diagnosed with Type 2 -- adult onset -- diabetes.
Hearing stories of people who ignored the symptoms of diabetes, and then faced significant health issues after being diagnosed later in life scared Lowe. He was more than willing to go on whatever treatment to get the disease controlled early on.
He tried managing it with diet at first. Carbs, sugars and sweets became toxic, even though it's what most 24- and 25-year olds thrive on eating.
"It was impossible. There is no way," Lowe said. "It got me good this offseason."
Already with a slender build and having struggled to keep on weight in the past, Lowe lost nearly 15 pounds in the offseason as his body struggled with his diet and blood sugar. Eventually doctors changed Lowe's diagnosis and determined he had Type 1 -- juvenile onset -- where the body does not produce insulin. Only a couple of weeks ago Lowe started daily insulin injections.
Five times a day Lowe takes readings on his blood sugar. From when he wakes up, till he's ready to turn in, it's a constant process of monitoring his body's reactions and then tweaking it to the levels he needs through insulin shots. He also finds himself eating throughout the day, although the carbs are reserved for the morning.
For Morrow, this is all old hat. Morrow's diabetes -- also Type 1 -- was first diagnosed when he was a senior in high school and had the watchful eye of his mom controlling what he ate during his first year of adjusting to the disease. Yet, it still was a struggle learning what foods cause what kind of reactions.
"For him it's still the first year he's been dealing with it. There are a lot of things that go up and down," Morrow said. "You just have to find your routine and now that he's on insulin shots it should be good for him."
Instead of giving himself daily injections, Morrow wears a pump that can give a constant stream of insulin to keep Morrow level or can be adjusted to give quick bursts.
But even with the pump it's still a challenge for Morrow, who will be a reliever again this season. Morrow said it's easier for him to keep his levels normal as a reliever than when he worked as a starter, because of the ability to let himself build to a plateau in the early innings and make sure he's at full strength when the call comes to the bullpen.
"I would check before I go out to the bullpen and then I would check around the fourth, fifth inning and make sure everything was still good and make an adjustment if I needed to," Morrow said.
That entire process of getting his body at the right balance at the time he's called upon to pitch will be an education for Lowe early in the season. So far during spring training, while he's been hit hard at times and his numbers don't look overly impressive, Lowe says his body is responding fine to the stress of pitching and the recent introduction of the insulin shots.
The question that no one has an answer to yet is how will Lowe's body handle the pressure of pitching in a major league game, combined with extensive the travel involved with playing in the far off Pacific Northwest.
He says he's not overly concerned, holding his insulin pin after giving himself a shot before lunch.
"I just have to take this thing wherever I go," he said.