Crombeen Not Held Back by Diabetes

Blues forward has been treating diabetes since he was nine years old

Wednesday, 03.16.2011 / 9:44 AM / St Louis Blues - Features
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Crombeen Not Held Back by Diabetes
B.J. Crombeen was born to play hockey. His father, Mike, also played professional hockey for the St. Louis Blues.

Like most kids growing up in Canada, B.J., from Newmarket, Ontario, fell in love with hockey, too. But a little problem called diabetes entered his life at age nine.

Would it stop him? Not for a moment.

A Daily Duty

When B.J. was diagnosed, it was a big surprise. His uncle had type 2 diabetes and shared what he knew, but B.J. had a lot to learn.

His parents helped him accept having diabetes and didn't make a big deal about it. "I'm sure they were a little more panicked behind the scenes, but they tried to play it pretty cool and tell me it would be all right," he says.

They told him that if he took good care of his diabetes, it wouldn't get in the way of anything he wanted to do. As B.J. explains, "They just said, "This is what you're going to have to do, and we're going to have to find a way to make it part of your life.' I said "Okay,' and went with it, rather than feeling sorry for myself."

He looks at it like this: Most guys have to wake up and grab their cell phones, keys, and wallets before they head out the door. "I just add my diabetes kit to that. That's just part of my life and I don't really think about it as a challenge or something that's going to set me back."

At nine, B.J. began to take over his own routines and learned to give his own shots with help from his parents.

Hockey in the Family
Hockey was always a part of B.J.'s life.

"I think every kid in Canada growing up playing hockey wants to play (in the NHL)," he says, "but I didn't know my real dream or goal until I was about 15 or 16. I started working my way up."

At first, people were surprised that he continued to play and didn't let diabetes get in his way. He proved that it wouldn't by managing his diabetes well.

"I've been pretty lucky. I can usually feel what my blood sugar is doing," he says. "I can feel when I'm going low pretty early." This has allowed him to avoid having low blood sugar while playing.

His teammates were supportive. "They just knew it was something I had to do, and they let me do it," he says. "They were just jealous that I got to drink Gatorade before they did sometimes."

B.J. was drafted as a professional in 2003 by the Dallas Stars. In 2008, he moved to his dad's old team, the St. Louis Blues.

B.J. checks his blood sugar 10 to 20 times on game days. "I know when I'm going to be eating, what I'm going to be doing, how much energy I'm going to be using," he says. Knowing that routine and staying on track is key. "If I can do the same thing day in and day out, then I usually don't have too many problems."

Days off are different: he tends to need more insulin. "On a typical game day, we'll skate in the morning, and we'll obviously play the game at night, so you're using quite a bit of energy and burning off quite a bit of the sugar that you're eating," he says. "It's burning it off so I'm not needing to use as much insulin."

Travel also creates challenges, which B.J. manages with routines and by planning ahead. He gets his schedule in advance and plans his insulin, especially when crossing time zones.

"When you're crossing time zones, you have to wake up earlier or you kind of get out of whack," he says. He sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night to take a little bit of short-acting insulin.

Hoping for a Cure
B.J. is still on shots rather than the insulin pump. "I guess I'm a routine kind of guy," he says. "I'm comfortable with the needles, so I haven't switched over yet."

He takes three to five shots a day, typically a long-acting insulin in the morning followed by several fast-acting shots later in the day. It depends on his activity level, what he eats, and other factors.

B.J. has only had one serious low blood sugar episode, which occurred during the night several years ago. His wife was with him and could not wake him. "She did all the right things and made sure I got help, but it was a scary episode," he says. He switched insulins and has not had another episode.

B.J. is aware that diabetes complications could occur in the future. "That's why I pay such close attention," he says. "To give up an extra 15 minutes of your day, watching that little extra bit closer and trying to eliminate those complications in the future, is something that I'm willing to do. Hopefully they'll continue to make advances. Maybe in my lifetime they'll be able to find a cure, and I won't have to worry about it."

He is encouraged about a future without diabetes, thanks to research funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, but recognizes the need for patience. "I just don't want to get my hopes up too high," he says. "It's a long process, once they do find something, to make sure that it is doing exactly what they're hoping it does. Hopefully they'll continue and find something."

Meanwhile, he keeps his perspective: "I think the biggest thing is trying to have an attitude where you don't let it affect you. It's something I've really kind of prided myself on, just trying to make it part of my daily life and not accepting the excuse that it's not going to let me do certain things."

He also thinks diabetes has helped him. "It definitely made me more responsible," he says. "Obviously, you had to be disciplined with it and stick to your program. It definitely helped me in that aspect. It made me grow up a little quicker than most kids. Looking back now, it's definitely helped me in many aspects of life."

Story by Julie Mettenburg and Jodi Newcorn. Used with permission from crombeenforacure.org.

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