It has become an inconvenient but crucial part of Sean Meehan's warm-up for every baseball game.
Besides running and throwing, the Saint Martin’s pitcher also pricks the finger on his left hand, drawing a small bubble of blood for testing. Then, if he needs to, he’ll inject himself with insulin, usually in the stomach.
This is Meehan’s new life. In early February, doctors told Meehan, while he was lying in a hospital bed and dangerously close to falling into a coma, that he’s a Type 1 diabetic.
“I was shocked,” Meehan said. “At first, it was very scary. I couldn’t believe it. Me? A diabetic? I’ve been healthy all my life.”
He will have to inject himself with insulin shots at least four times a day for the rest of his life, once before every meal and once before going to bed. There is no cure.
Mike and Beth Meehan cried when they heard the news about their only son.
“As a dad, I was devastated,” Mike said. “It caught us all off guard. You don’t ever expect when you’re 22 years old that something like this would hit. I just lost it. You want the best for your child. I don’t want to outlive my son.”
After the initial shock, Sean Meehan discovered being a Type 1 diabetic doesn’t mean an end to his dream of playing professional baseball. Several athletes have enjoyed long careers while playing with Type 1 diabetes, including Ron Santo and Jackie Robinson, and – recently with the Mariners and now with the Blue Jays – pitcher Brandon Morrow.
While Meehan was in Providence St. Peter Hospital, his coaches at Saint Martin’s were texting him names of athletes who were Type 1 diabetics and still played pro sports.
“That was encouraging,” Meehan said. “All my coaches and teammates have been really supportive.”
Meehan, an all-state center fielder at Centralia High School who accepted a scholarship to the University of Washington before transferring to SMU, was determined to play baseball this spring. Realizing he couldn’t just wish diabetes away, his attitude was “bring it.”
“I knew I couldn’t change this,” said Meehan, who was drafted by the Texas Rangers in the 40th round out of high school. “I knew I had to adjust. I just accepted it. Baseball has helped me cope.”
Now, beside carrying his baseball glove to every game, he also brings a small leather packet that contains a tiny electronic meter that measures his blood sugar levels, small needles he uses to prick his fingers and a syringe-like device he uses to inject himself. Since he pitches right handed, he pricks only his left hand.
“It’s hard watching him do that,” Mike Meehan said. “He checks each finger to decide which one is the sorest.”
Sean Meehan pricks himself up to 10 times a day to monitor his blood sugar levels.
“I’m constantly checking,” he said. “I check three, four times in a game.”
In early February, Meehan first began feeling dizzy and lethargic. He was also urinating frequently. On SMU’s road trip to California that started the season, Meehan struggled with his pitching. His velocity and control faltered.
“I couldn’t make the pitches I usually make,” he said. “It was weird. I didn’t know what was going on.”
When he got back to school, he was even having trouble reading what professors had written on the boards during class lectures.
“I couldn’t see things right in front of me,” he said. “Everything was blurry.”
Meehan, on the insistence of his dad and his coach, went to the school’s health clinic. Within a half hour, SMU coach Ken Garland was taking him to St. Peter Hospital.
Meehan said his blood sugar level reading was 650. Normal is about 75-100. He was told people slip into a coma at about 800.
Meehan’s pancreas had stopped producing insulin, which is needed to convert food into energy.
Type 1 diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes because it is commonly diagnosed in children and young adults.
“It all happened so fast,” Garland said. “He had been throwing well in practice. Then he didn’t have the energy and the command of his pitches when we went to California.”
Doctors have told Meehan he can live a normal life as long as he watches his diet, limits how many carbohydrates he eats and takes his insulin shots. He’s back pitching well for the Saints.
“It’s not that I’m limited and I can’t go out and do things,” Meehan said. “I’d still like to get a shot at playing pro ball. That’s still my dream. I know I can do it, if someone just gave me the chance.”