How Athletes Can Inspire Diabetics
As I write this, I have just been outside shoveling snow for the second time in two days. (Washington was only expecting a dusting of snow and got 8 to 10 inches!) However, spring is coming; and along with spring emerges...spring training and baseball! On the day of the snowstorm, a bus stuffed with many of the players on the Washington Nationals arrived at Children's National Medical Center for the second annual Nats caravan. Our atrium at Children's National was set up with tables of books, games, and toys along with many of our hospitalized patients (including those just admitted with new onset diabetes) waiting for the team to arrive.
At 11:00 am the players, Screech (mascot), and team manager arrived and the kids went nuts! Hospital staff, including myself, nursing, volunteers, foundation and public relations, were there to help the players immerse themselves with the children. It did not take long. The players armed with baseball cards and sharpies hunkered down with kids and parents, signed autographs and gave of themselves. Some played video games with the middle-school kids and teens, others read books to the little kids, and others talked about how they became athletes. One ballplayer was heard speaking Spanish to some of our Latino patients.
It was emotional. Many children who have been hospitalized for weeks (but were ambulatory enough to make it down to the atrium) smiled for the first time in a very long time. I know these children have received cutting edge medical attention and have been cared for by dedicated healthcare teams. Many of these children have chronic illness (inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, brain tumors, and diabetes) and deal with illness 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, and 365-days/ year with no respite. Their parents feel the same.
So, here came the Nats! For two hours the kids were entertained by baseball players who elicited smiles and excitement for the first time in many weeks. Photographs were taken, screech dolls handed out and the players were whisked to other floors where children were unable to be moved.
It is always amazing to me to see how a celebrity (in this case, sports figures) can contribute to a patient's wellness. I have noted that athletes who know that they are role models and behave as such can truly change the life of susceptible individuals. I observed that true role models can inspire kids who are currently undergoing stressful medical treatments to keep moving forward, try to succeed, and persevere. After all, look at them! If they can become professional athletes; why not keep working at improving your blood sugars until a cure is discovered?
For those that have type 2 diabetes, who better to stress the importance of exercise and proper nutrition than a professional athlete? Marketing has clearly demonstrated that people want to be like their heroes and flock to buy endorsed products. What better product to endorse than wellness or the ability to move forward despite adversity? It is one thing for the healthcare team to deliver the same essential information time after time, yet totally another for a famous athlete to note the importance of eating a nutritious breakfast every day!
We, as a diabetes healthcare team, strive to keep our kids and families moving forward: toward improved glycemic control by day-to-day self care skills. Who better to inculcate our young patients about the importance of day-to-day tasks, emphasizing the importance of practicing every day towards a goal (in our case blood sugar control)? These athletes provide motivation, a key factor in the success of any medical treatment in chronic illness.
I have to admit that I personally find it a bit daunting to know that despite 30 years of experience working with children managing diabetes, an encounter with a beloved sports figure can sometimes motivate more than I, even after a long established relationship. Hence, knowing this information is powerful and should be applied often. In particular, sports figures with diabetes are in a special class by themselves in relation to our children with diabetes. They have truly demonstrated that nearly anything is possible!