|Sam McCorkle: Breaks boards and handles|
diabetes with equal skill
I had been calling his mom to get information and I'd miss her, and she'd call back and miss me, but we finally made connections recently. Sam's mom reminded me of my wife when she discussed her son's condition. Four years ago, Mrs. McCorkle, her husband Randy and sons Sam and Luke were on vacation in Aruba when she noticed the first signs that something was wrong with her oldest son. Sam was eating a lot, but seemed to be losing weight. During the day, however, he was fine, staying active at the pool and down at the beach.
She decided it would be okay to wait until they returned to Cincinnati before taking Sam, 7 years old at the time, to the doctor. Meanwhile, her husband took a flight to China on business. Laureen headed for the pediatrician, got the initial bad news that the young man was diabetic, and she and the two boys were soon headed for Children's Hospital.
Like my wife Anne, when our Emily was diagnosed in 2005, Mrs. McCorkle was stunned and frightened by the news. "The impact, walking into the Emergency Room, you still don't believe it." The first day at the hospital was the worst. "You're there for hours, you're thinking about everything that's bad." She remembers telling herself, "He'll never have a popsicle, he'll never be able to sleep over at friends" and in her worry she put together a long mental list of daily restrictions he'd now inevitably face.
Luckily, the people at Children's Hospital know what they're doing and the second day, a nurse counselor came into the room and started explaining what a diagnosis of type-1 diabetes really means. First of all, it's not the end of the world in any way; and once you know that you start feeling a little better. "I love them," Mrs. McCorkle said when I asked if her experience with Children's had been as great as ours. "I do believe Dottie [the nurse counselor] saved my life...I was out of my mind."
Slowly but surely, the McCorkles came to grips with a new reality. Dad flew back from Shanghai as soon as he could. Luke decided, at age 4, to support his brother when he got home by "measuring" all the food he ate, just as Sam was doing. The first day out of the hospital, Sam went to the pool for a swim like always and then headed for Taekwondo practice.
If you have a chance to talk to Sam, as I did, you find out quickly that he has never let being a diabetic interfere with what he sets his mind on doing. He has Taekwondo practice every Saturday morning for two hours, and for several more hours on different weekday nights, and all the exerecise helps him keep good control of his blood sugar. He's studing and practicing now for a spring 2012 test to become a black belt in his chosen form of martial arts. When I asked him what he liked best about Taekwondo, he responded honestly, "It's fun to kick people." Then he added that his teachers emphasized that you "don't abuse it when you're out." Sam said, in a modest fashion, that he could already break a one-inch board in half with his foot or his fist. Not bad for a guy who is only 11, I thought to myself.
He has won several awards and gone to the National Tournament three years in a row. (Luke is pretty good, too, from what mom tells me, and although Sam admits he and his brother sometimes fight, they never use any of their martial arts techniques on each other.) Meanwhile, Sam has racked up some very impressive grades, too. He's a straight-A student, heading into sixth grade next year in the Loveland City Schools. He likes to read, especially Percy Jackson's books about Greek mythology and now he's trying a little Egyptian mythology for variety. His favorite movie is Avatar and he likes the Harry Potter series.
There are times when Mom still worries--and she has even tested Luke once or twice when he showed a hint of the syptoms of type-1 diabetes. But these are the days, where if you have to be diabetic, at least the care has improved. Sam has an advanced pump, so small he can wear it while fighting, weighing only an ounce even filled with insulin.
Mom gives the Loveland Schools high marks for the way nurses and health aides have taken care of her son. Connie Smith, who handled Sam in second grade, was wonderful. Then Cindy Fackler took over, and Judy Leamy and now Stephanie Schumaker, all of them doing a great job. "You have no idea how wonderful these women are until you need them," mom says. "I feel like my son is safe at school...they don't coddle him, but they take care of him."
So a round of applause to the Loveland nurses and aides is in order.
There was a time, when Sam was young, that when teachers asked him to write about himself, he always mentioned something to do with diabetes. Now, he's past that. He's working toward a black belt. He's working hard in school when school is in session. He's even working on learning how to play the violin.
I get the impression--very strongly--in talking with Sam, that he's very mature for his age. He doesn't let diabetes get him down. "I'm going to deal with it and go on with my life. I don't really worry about it at all," is how he puts it. He admits there are some activities he has to avoid. He can't go scuba diving at any great depths because his pump couldn't take it. And he's a little bit bummed because he can't have as much birthday cake to eat as he sometimes wants.
I like Sam's mature answers so much I finally asked, "What would you say to another kid if they had just received a type-1 diagnosis?" "Always listen to the doctor," he responded immediately. Then he added, "It's okay to be afraid the first two years. But it gets better."
At this point, I was thinking to myself, "This guy is eleven and he has a better prespective on life than I do."
I put this final question to him: "What would you do if you woke up one day and they had a cure?"
Sam doesn't let diabetes drag him down, but his answer shows you how much we need to keep looking for a cure. "Yippee, I'd be saying in my head. I'd rip off my pump, smash it with a hammer and eat everything there is in the pantry."
So, yeah: someday, when there's a cure, Sam is going to go wild on his birthday and probably eat a whole cake.
Until then, Sam McCorkle is your typical type-1 diabetic.
He wears a pump, he deals with a still-dangerous disease, and he's his own man.
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