Michael Quinn watches over his sixth grade football team from the sidelines of Faber Field in 2011. (Photo Credit: Jodi Crandell Photography)
Michael Quinn watches over his sixth grade football team from the sidelines of Faber Field in 2011.

Photo Credit: Jodi Crandell Photography

Quinn tackles diabetes

May 4, 2016

Featured Image Photo Credit: Jodi Crandell Photography

The suede couch seemed to swallow up 11-year old Michael Quinn as he napped. The living room, an assortment of warm-toned colors, had a doorless divide into the kitchen. Michael’s mother, standing a few feet away from Michael, brushed away pizza bagel crumbs from the counter.

Michael hosted his first sleepover since being diagnosed with Diabetes three months prior. It was reassuring to know that things didn’t have to change despite the diagnosis. She washed the dishes that were in the sink.

After all the dishes had been washed and dried, Michael’s mother, Cathy noticed that Michael’s nap on the couch was oddly long. It was also quiet, too quiet. 

Cathy walked over to him to arouse him from his nap, shaking him gently and suggesting he should try to rest in his own bed. There was no response from Michael. After rmultiple attempts to wake him from his nap and still no response,  Cathy felt chills run up through her spine. With her maternal instinct and background in nursing, she didn’t hesitate to check his blood sugar right away.

A normal blood sugar level should be from 70-99. Michael’s was at 20. She reached for the phone and dialed 9-1-1 with trembling fingers.

The minutes leading up to the arrival of the ambulance were grueling, leaving Cathy with enough time to envelop herself in the guilt for not checking his blood sugar earlier. She could have caught his dropping blood sugar before it got to such an extent, which would have effectively prevented this catastrophe.

Segments of Michael’s once booming voice played through her head as she hoped that the memories would evolve into a legitimate noise once again. Michael had always been so vibrant and full of life, yet, at this moment in time, he lay unresponsive.

She then began to notice Michael displaying subtle spastic movements. These movements gradually transformed into a full blown seizure.

She ran through the doorless divide to the kitchen, flinging open the refrigerator door, to grab a bottle of juice. She frantically tried pouring it into his mouth. She soon found this approach to raising Michael’s blood sugar ineffective, and she resorted to using a glucagon.

Glucagon, which is made by alpha cells of the pancreas, is a peptide hormone. It works to raise the concentration of glucose in the bloodstream. Its effect is opposite of insulin, which lowers the glucose.

She found it nearly impossible to catch a steady breath until she heard the sounds of sirens echoing down the street.

Once in the care of paramedics, Michael started regaining consciousness as his blood sugar slowly began to rise. In the emergency room, the paramedics struggled to see significant process and sending him to intensive care was in serious consideration.

Finally, Michael started showing positive signs of improvement, comforting everyone except for Cathy; the chills were gone, but she couldn’t shake the discomfiting thought that her son would have to live in the shadows of this dangerous disease for the rest of his life. Type 1 Diabetes is unshakable. It cannot be shrugged off or neglected. Michael’s daily routine would have to change drastically in order to stay healthy and avoid such major health complications. 

Michael Quinn, second from the left, sets in position on the line ready for the snap against Bergenfield in 2011.
Photo Credit: Jodi Crandell Photography
Michael Quinn, second from the left, sets in position on the line ready for the snap against Bergenfield in 2011.

It was in his sixth grade school year when Michael’s family began to notice a change in the way he looked and acted.

He was pale and losing weight. He seemed lethargic and had fading energy. He looked and acted like someone who was ill.  

When Michael’s good friend, Kyle Fisher (18’), had had a virus, Michael’s mother assumed that Michael had contracted the same virus with lingering effects. He was dropping weight and seemed continually affected by tiredness, weakness, and overall sickness: symptoms that could easily be attributed to a virus.

It was only a few weeks later that Michael’s parents left him in the care of his aunt for a night so they could attend a wedding.

His aunt soon recognized that his symptoms matched those of someone with diabetes. After making the connection, she immediately called Cathy. As her sister-in-law said the word “diabetes,” Cathy knew that that was it; this was the answer to the ongoing mystery.

The following morning, Cathy drove Michael to the pediatrician. His pediatrician checked his blood sugar.

The numbers came back and they were far beyond the norm.  

“Hearing the news was heartbreaking,” his mother said.

The doctors sent him to the hospital right away; then, within minutes, he was sent to the emergency room.

It was hectic. In the emergency room, doctors and nurses desperately worked to bring down his blood sugar with IVs. They thought they were going to have to bring him into intensive care until they finally saw his blood sugar level normalizing.

For Michael’s mother, seeing her son lay there surrounded by doctors and nurses in scrubs caused more distress.

“I couldn’t help but to be angry,” she recalled. “Here I have this kid who is so outgoing and so lively, sitting in a hospital bed so young taking on such an adult task for the rest of his life.”

God wouldn’t give you something you can’t handle.

— Michael Quinn

As Michael lay there, Cathy couldn’t help but envision a future in which Michael would have to cope with this problem by himself, without her there to help him.

Michael, on the other hand, only saw a confusing panorama of doctors and nurses rushing to and fro carrying clipboards, IVs, and long syringes filled with murky fluids.

He remembers his mother crying when the doctors told her the news. To a certain extent, he had used his mother’s feelings to gauge how he should respond.  To see her cry offered him surreal clarity of the severity of his condition.

As a nurse, Cathy knew more than the average person about diabetes and insulin. The tricky part, though, was teaching Michael how to jab himself with a needle. Many people inherently shy away from needles, regardless of how brave or courageous they can be in other settings. Cathy needed to tell him that he would have to prick himself not just once but rather multiple times every day.  

Michael and his mother Cathy on a family vacation at Seaside, New Jersey on May 10, 2015. Photo Credits: Rachel O’Connell
Michael and his mother Cathy on a family vacation at Seaside, New Jersey on May 10, 2015.
Photo Credits: Rachel O’Connell

To give himself insulin, Michael had to learn to use a syringe, which is a simple pump with a plunger small enough to fit in a cylindrical tube. The syringe replicates the needles used to give a child his or her flu shot. This is the most basic way to give one’s self insulin. Eventually, Michael would use more efficient gadgets and tools.

He planned on handling the situation maturely and responsibly so that he would never let it result in him modifying his lifestyle. He would find a way to make it work.

One of the ways he gained strength was through his faith.  

“God wouldn’t give you something you can’t handle,” Michael said.

Michael was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, also known as juvenile diabetes. This type of Diabetes results in the absence of insulin production in the body entirely. Insulin tells our bodies to take glucose out of our blood, which essentially lowers blood sugar levels, and is released during and after one eats. Without it, a single scoop of ice cream could cause hyperglycemic shock. Sugar wouldn’t get into the cells where it’s needed, leaving it to stay in the bloodstream which causes the blood sugar to rise.

The bodies of those with Type 2 Diabetes, the more common of the two, do not correctly use insulin. Type 2 Diabetes is more common in adults because it is known to be self-afflicted.

1 in 11 people have Diabetes. Once a person is diagnosed, they will face the diabetic battle everyday for the rest of their life. Type 1 Diabetes can be brought on by genetics or a virus.

Being overweight is a commonlikely cause of Type 2 Diabetes, yet it is not the only one. It is possible for Type 2 Diabetes to have hereditary factors, as well. Researchers have found certain DNA affecting insulin production where a person would be born into the likelihood of inheriting this disease.  The hereditary factors can be exacerbated by obesity or an unhealthy lifestyle.

They best way to avoid diabetes, besides those caused by heredity, is to stay active and have a healthy diet consisting of a moderate sugary food and drink intake.

Prior to the diagnosis, Michael had been on the starting lineup for his sixth grade football team. As the defensive linebacker, he couldn’t help but feel the constant need to protect his teammates. He had to pull through and be there for them.

Though the doctors had mentioned it would be in Michael’s best interest to ease back into into his daily routines after several weeks of rest, Michael stepped back onto the field just one week later with a mindset that deflected the menacing fear, negativity, and mediocrity.

Walking onto the dewy field that morning, he felt normal for the first time in a long time.

Yet across Faber Field sat his mother sporting red, black, and shaky hands.

“It was hard watching him put on his uniform and gear for his first game back; as a mother, I couldn’t help but to have resistant thoughts, though I kept them to myself,” Cathy said. “He needed reassurance of my confidence.”

Putting on a front for her child, she did and said everything possible to get a glimpse of the old Michael, but she was hopeful that letting Michael play in this Friday football game would do the trick.

His coaches, aware of Michael’s situation, were resistant to put him in the game especially for more than a short amount of time.

As soon as Michael was put into the game, though, he undeniably proved to his coaches, teammates, and himself that he was strong enough to deal with Diabetes. He got a pick-6, returning an interception for a touchdown, which effectively made the game one of his best at the time.

I’ve been proud of Michael on multiple occasions, especially with just the way he handles his diabetes so responsibly.

— Coach Jim Kurz

Throughout the game, Cathy sat on the bleachers trying to get Michael’s attention every chance she got by pantomiming the exaggerated motion of pricking oneself. This was her way of reminding Michael to check his blood sugar every quarter to maintain a consistent level. Cathy still uses this code, five years later, in the middle of Michael’s high school games.

“It holds you down sometimes, but if you put in the time to manage it, you don’t have to let it stop you from doing what you enjoy in life,” Michael said. 

The varsity football head coach, Jim Kurz, has known Michael since he was in middle school. Michael had always stood out to Kurz with his enthusiastic personality and Kurz was impressed with his above average physical strength for only being so young.

“I’ve been proud of Michael on multiple occasions, especially with just the way he handles his diabetes so responsibly,” Kurz said.

Michael’s commitment and dedication to the football team, even during off season, has impressed his coaches from the start. As a freshman and sophomore, Michael clocked varsity playing time. This year, although Michael was injured for a majority of the season, he showed his dedication by attending every single game.

As football is his main sport, Michael devotes his winter to lifting in the high school weight room. In the spring, he runs track to strengthen to his cardio abilities.

Michael has also managed to keep up with his school work at a high honors standard since middle school, even though he needs to avoid the habits of late night studying with caffeine and high stress. This isn’t a suitable lifestyle for a student with diabetes.

“School has always been a top priority of my own,” Michael said.

Michael between classes at his locker sophomore year.
Photo Credit: Sophia Ferreri
Michael between classes at his locker sophomore year.

However, it hasn’t been the schoolwork itself that is a struggle for Michael. His daily attendance throughout long school days was negatively affected by diabetes.

An effect of low blood sugar is excessive tiredness. While Michael sleeps, his blood sugar is unmaintainable: therefore, it frequently drops. To wake up with low blood sugar makes the reach for the snooze button much more tempting.  Tiredness is even more acute when Michael wakes up in the middle of the night with low blood sugar. When this happens, Michael has to gather all of his energy to get himself up and downstairs to the kitchen to eat, not for the sake of his own hunger, but for safety precautions.

“I’ll never let waking up and not feeling my best keep me from doing my best.” Michael said. “Many of my teachers know that I have diabetes and will send me any work I miss after coming in late.”

Michael’s mother, Cathy, has always pushed him to do his best in school. Even under such hard circumstances, though, Michael has always found motivation on his own. He hopes to be a successful business man following in the footsteps of his older brother Matt.

For years, researchers have been working tirelessly to find a cure for diabetes. In 2013, there was a medical breakthrough regarding diabetes. Researchers at the University of Miami found that they could biologically engineer an organ to make insulin to precise amounts. This would essentially replicate the job of the pancreas. With this innovation, one diagnosed with diabetes could now have the natural sugars in the body unregulated by blood sugar checks. This is the closest researchers have been to a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

Before anyone with Type 1 Diabetes undergoes the surgery, the FDA has to officially approve the procedure. This could take up to 5-7 years, but Michael does not mind the time. He is excited by this sense of hope for his enduring disease to finally have the chance to be cured.

“If I could give someone with Type 1 Diabetes advice, I would say don’t let it discourage you or keep you from doing what you love, because sure, it’s an inconvenience to check your blood sugar throughout the day, but essentially it’s whats saving your life,” Michael said. “A little prick on the finger is nothing.”

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  • SportswriterMay 6, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    From one writer to another, congrats on a well-written piece. Erin Andrews better watch out

  • Philip CaffreyMay 4, 2016 at 4:05 pm

    I am so impressed by the way that this article was written,the author Sophie Ferrer has done a wonderful, thoughtful,and informative job of telling a story about a very difficult and painful subject. Michael Quinn and his Mom Cathy are roll models of strength and maturity. Well done Sophie,and Glen Echo for a superb article
    Phil Caffrey