Admirals rookie forward Cory Conacher is one of the leading scorers in the AHL. To see him skate, you wouldn't think there was anything wrong with this seemingly healthy 21-year-old who just graduated from college.
What you wouldn't realize is that, like former Admirals Ajay Baines and Brent Henley before him, Conacher battles both the opposition team and diabetes every game.
Dave Morgan has volunteered at Admirals games as an off-ice official since the founding of the team in 1989. Like the Admirals, he was preparing for his 23rd season at Scope last September when he suffered a severe stroke. The cause – diabetes. He spent weeks in the hospital and missed nearly two months of work as a result.
According to the 2011 National Diabetes Fact Sheet, 25.8 million Americans are diabetic – that's 8.3% of the United States population. Diabetes is a group of diseases characterized by high blood sugar levels that occur because the body is not able to produce or use the hormone insulin. Blood sugar (or glucose) is the primary source of energy for the body's cells. Insulin is a hormone that serves as a vehicle to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.
Diabetics can experience a wide array of symptoms, beginning with frequent urination, increased thirst, increased hunger and vision changes. If left untreated, symptoms can escalate and include complications such as cardiovascular disease. The risk for stroke or heart attacks for people with diabetes is two-to-four times greater than that of individuals without diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among adults aged 20-74. It is also the leading cause of kidney failure. These are just a few of the many potential complications from the disease.
There are multiple types of diabetes. Conacher is a Type 1 Diabetic. This type of diabetes occurs when the pancreas does not produce insulin. It is typically diagnosed in children and young adults and accounts for approximately 5% of diabetes cases.
Conacher's family knew something was wrong when he was young because he was frequently waking up thirsty. A visit to the doctors provided the diagnosis. Conacher has worn an insulin pump to help regulate his diabetes since he was 12 years old.
Conacher's father Dave explained to The Virginian-Pilot last month that despite the insulin pump, his son still has to be vigilant daily to regulate his health.
"Type 1 Diabetes is with you every single day, all day long," said Dave Conacher. "It doesn't go away. You treat it with insulin, but you can't relax from it because if you don't do your test, if you go high or low with blood sugar, you can go into a diabetic coma."
Cory regularly monitors his blood sugar and pays special attention during and after games.
"I came to learn that as soon as I've spent all that energy playing hockey, I have to eat well to counteract it with protein after the game to make sure I don't crash," Conacher told The Pilot last month.
Morgan is a Type 2 Diabetic, which accounts for 90% of all cases of diabetes. This type occurs when the body either does not produce enough insulin or the body ignores the insulin. Typically, Type 2 Diabetes develops gradually over time, making it more difficult to notice. Morgan was one of the estimated seven million American diabetics who do not know they have the disease.
"I found out I was diabetic when I was in the emergency room," said Morgan.
Morgan's stroke occurred as a result of high blood pressure, high blood sugar and high cholesterol peaking at the same time. He was temporarily paralyzed on his right side and continues to undergo therapy.
"I was one of the lucky ones because it has not affected my cognitive functions," said Morgan. "I can answer all the questions that people ask me."
For Conacher, diabetes is something he can regulate by monitoring his blood sugar, keeping in shape, eating right and staying in touch with his physicians. As a result, he is able to stay healthy. But he has always had to answer questions about his ability perform as an elite athlete. His statistics through the first quarter of his rookie season speak for themselves, as Conacher leads all AHL rookies in scoring and ranks in the top five of AHL scorers overall.
"It's always a case of, 'Can this guy control his diabetes?'" Conacher told The Pilot. "'Will he have the energy to play a full schedule? A 60-minute game?' So far, they realize that it isn't a problem."
Morgan has regained the ability to walk with a cane and his speech is vastly improved. He has returned to work and was able to watch his first Admirals game of the season last Wednesday night at Scope. With continued therapy, medication, exercise and a regulated diet, his doctors expect him to be back to 100% in the next three to six months.
"I have changed my diet hugely," said Morgan. "No more processed sugars. No more added sugars or salt. I find myself reading the labels on the back of packages before I eat something to find out how much sugar or salt it has.
"My blood pressure now is lower than when I was in high school. My blood sugar is also way lower. I'm testing my blood sugar twice a day.”
If there's one message that both Conacher and Morgan can agree upon, it's that everyone should get checked for diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, recent studies indicate that early detection of diabetes symptoms and treatment can decrease the chance of developing the complications of diabetes.
Conacher has done his part by speaking out about diabetes. He and his parents spoke candidly with The Virginian-Pilot for an article about Conacher's life with diabetes in October. He participated in the Diabetes Walk at Neptune Park on the Virginia Beach Boardwalk on October 22nd and has spoken to several fellow diabetics. He also has worked closely with the Eastern Virginia Medical School Strelitz Diabetes Center to promote the Admirals’ Diabetes Awareness Night.
Morgan later found out that diabetes runs in his family. He contacted his brother and urged him to get checked out by his doctor. His brother is now also receiving treatment for diabetes – thankfully before any major complications have taken place.
When asked what he feels the general public should know about diabetes, Morgan spoke with the passion of a person who knows firsthand how serious diabetes can be.
"Everybody should get checked. They need to avoid what happened to me. It's horrible - just horrible. After my experience, I don't want to see anybody I know go through this."
For more information about diabetes, speak to your physician. You may also contact Norfolk's EVMS Strelitz Diabetes Center online at evms.edu or by calling (757) 446-5908. Another great resource is the American Diabetes Association, which can be found online at diabetes.org.