Jays’ McGowan, Morrow overcome diabetes


DUNEDIN, Fla. — Brandon Morrow was a senior in high school when the symptoms started, including a constant thirst.

A friend was doing a school project on diabetes and suggested that Morrow should be checked out by a doctor.

Dustin McGowan was rehabilitating from 2004 reconstructive elbow surgery when he began urinating constantly to the point where he had trouble sleeping. He sought medical help.

Both discovered that they have Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes.

They are teammates now and could both be part of the Toronto Blue Jays rotation this season, depending on how McGowan continues to progress from a succession of setbacks from 2008 shoulder surgery. So far he is doing well.

Morrow, 25, was obtained in a trade with the Seattle Mariners — who made him the fifth pick overall in the 2006 draft — during the off-season. He was a highly rated prospect in high school when he said he started drinking an inordinate amount of water.

"It dehydrates you a lot when your diabetes is uncontrolled," he said. "I was drinking a lot of water and urinating a lot because when you can’t metabolize the sugar in your blood then it turns to ketones which is poisonous to the body and you have to get rid of them.

"Being really dehydrated, I would wake up in the middle of the night with the worst dry mouth, my tongue would literally feel like a piece of wood in my mouth."

He also said he developed dark circles under his eyes.

His blood sugar was so high that he went to hospital where he was put on insulin intravenously and was hydrated with fluids.

It was a different situation for both McGowan, 28, and Morrow’s friend and former teammate with Seattle, Mark Lowe, 26.

Both were first diagnosed with Type 2, or late onset, diabetes which can be treated with medication and diet. When those didn’t work, both were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, which requires insulin injections. Lowe found out last year that he has Type 1 and Morrow was able to provide support.

"I was there to answer any questions that he had," Morrow said, "and I think it definitely helped. He could see that obviously you can still perform at the highest level with diabetes and that there was no reason that he should worry about it once he had everything under control. It can be beneficial to you because it helps you learn routine."

Discussions between McGowan and Morrow are on a different level. "We’re both in good routines," he said. "We’ve had [diabetes] for long enough that we have our own routines, we found out what works for us."

McGowan said he has never had a teammate who also is diabetic and feels it could be help. "If you’re having a problem with something you don’t really know about you can ask him," he said. "Maybe he’ll know something about it. Everybody’s different."

They talked early in spring training about the insulin pump that Morrow has worn, except when he pitches, since his sophomore year at the University of California at Berkeley. Before that he used a syringe and then a pen for injections.

McGowan doesn’t use a pump but after talking to Morrow is interested in using one. If he does he said that it would have to wait until the off-season.

When he first obtained his insulin pump in college. Morrow said he tried wearing it a couple of times when he was pitching. He found it a little uncomfortable clipped on his belt and snaked through his jersey.

"You’re exercising and stuff and you don’t really need to have the pump on at the time you’re pitching," Morrow said. "And I monitor my sugar between innings and stuff."

Diabetics monitor their blood sugar by pricking a finger to draw a small blood sample to a test strip that fits in a device that gives a glucose reading. This test can be done several times a day.

Morrow said the only time he has felt low blood sugar in a game was once during a start in college. He said it is just a matter of establishing a routine.

"Early on starting, the only problems I’ve really ever encountered is my sugar will drop a little low in my pre-game bullpen," he said. "That’s due to me just trying to get it too perfect sometimes."

He has compensated for that by having a complex carbohydrate bar an hour before he is scheduled to pitch.

"That seems to help level everything out," he said.

During a start, Morrow said he will check his glucose count after the first and second innings.

"By then you’ve levelled out and there’s not going to be much change," he said. "As a reliever, I would check my blood sugar in the fifth inning and make any adjustment that I needed — have a little snack or anything if needed to bring it [his glucose count] up or give myself a half unit [of insulin] or whatever to bring it down if it was a little high. Then when the sixth inning came along I would unclip my pump, wrap it up and put in my jacket."

"I’m a little, different," McGowan said. "I try not to test it while pitching, I’ve got so many other things on my mind. I’ll test before [the start] and try to get it to a comfortable number for me."

He’ll have his blood sugar a little higher going into the start because it will drop with the activity of the game.

When McGowan was first diagnosed with diabetes he said it was difficult for him to give up regular soft drinks. That has changed.

"When my blood sugar gets low and I need a little sugar I’ll try to take a couple of swallows of the regular drink and it’s nasty," he said. "I don’t even like it anymore."

In the first couple of months of taking insulin injections — one fast-acting type of insulin before each meal and a 24-hour type before bed — McGowan admitted to being a little squeamish and his wife do the injections. She is a nursing graduate.

"Then they made me go to a clinic down here and once I got to the clinic they made me do it, I got used to it," he said.

As far as adjusting to dealing with diabetes, McGowan said, "It gets easier and easier because you learn a little more each day about it."

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