At this year’s annual Friends for Life Children with Diabetes conference in Orlando, Florida, Crystal Jackson, director of our Safe at School program, spoke with KJ Dillon, a member of our Team Tackle initiative and safety for Houston, about his experience living with type 1 diabetes as an athlete. Dillon received his type 1 diabetes diagnosis the summer before his rookie year at West Virginia University, and was happy to speak to children and their families at the conference about his journey with type 1 diabetes and the importance of always keeping a positive attitude.
Q: When were you diagnosed with type 1 diabetes?
A: I was diagnosed at 17 years old during my senior in high school. I was preparing for college football and was trying to gain weight, but I noticed my weight was going the wrong way. I lost about 20 to 30 lbs. and I was not feeling my best. I told my mom that we had to go to the doctor. At the doctor’s, they told me my blood sugar (glucose) was more than 1,000, and that if I had waited another day, I could have been in a diabetic coma.
Q: How was going back to school after you received your diagnosis?
A: Everything was so new to me and I was so shy about it. I would ask to go to the bathroom to take my shot. I didn’t want to do things around other people. I didn’t want to be judged because I was this super star athlete in high school and homecoming king, and [I didn’t want] people find out about this, so I was nervous but I got over that eventually.
Q: Once they found out, how did your classmates react to your diagnosis?
A: At first, everyone cried, because they thought I was the worst person that this could have happened to since they thought I had such a bright future. But, I told them that it is what it is and you just have to get through it.
Q: What about your teammates? Do they know about your diabetes?
A: My teammates all think they are doctors (laughing). They say, “Don’t do this” or “You’re not supposed to eat that.” I know they’re just looking out for me. But they don’t really know a lot about diabetes, so they can’t really know what to look for. But my close friend on the team and my former roommate, he knows everything about diabetes and helps.
Q: How has diabetes changed your life?
A: Diabetes made me a more responsible person. I used to do a lot of things that were unhealthy for me. It was a blessing in disguise because it made me realize that I have to take care of my body. It taught me that in order to do the things that I want to do, I have to take charge of my health. Now that I have been forced to take care of myself, I feel good.
Q: Do you give any advice to kids managing their diabetes?
A: Take it one day at a time. If you want to play sports or anything, diabetes won’t stop you. Just make sure you take care of yourself and educate yourself. Don’t be like me and learn the hard way. Just make sure you take care of yourself and keep having a positive attitude and outlook on your life.