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Help other children with diabetes, former Steeler tells Greensburg youths

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Austin Bachand | Trib Total Media
An audience of kids in the Greensburg YMCA’s summer programs question Former Pittsburgh Steeler Kendall Simmons about living with his diabetes at the Greensburg YMCA on Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014. Simmons was promoting Westmoreland County’s YMCA’s Diabetes Prevention Program.
Thursday, Aug. 14, 2014, 11:06 p.m.
 

Kendall Simmons didn't feel right two and a half weeks before Pittsburgh Steelers training camp was scheduled to start in 2003 in Latrobe.

He was constantly thirsty. He suffered from dry mouth. He made frequent trips to the bathroom and dropped 45 pounds.

Then, he recalled, he went blind and was hospitalized until doctors determined the cause — diabetes.

“My wife was 1 or 2 inches from my face, and I couldn't see her, and I was only 23 years old,” Simmons said Thursday in Greensburg, recalling his four days in a hospital bed.

Now, his sight restored and his body nearly 60 pounds lighter than in his days as a Steelers guard, Simmons spoke to about 75 children at the Greensburg YMCA.

He encouraged them to stay active and never give up on their dreams. Simmons, a spokesman for the national diabetes care company Novo Nordisk, instructed the children about what causes diabetes and what it's like to have it.

“The more activity you have and run around, the better you feel,” Simmons told the children. “Your body needs that.”

At first, doctors determined Simmons, 35, the Steelers' first-round draft pick in 2002 out of Auburn, suffered from what he called “type 1.5” diabetes, or latent autoimmune diabetes.

“I thought, ‘What is this?' and ‘Why do I have to have it now,' ” he remembered. “ ‘How did I get this, and why?' I didn't understand. I felt I was healthy.”

Everyone surmised he suffered from Type 2 diabetes because he weighed 315 pounds in his rookie season, Simmons said.

“But I was in the honeymoon phase,” he added. “It took seven years for the pancreas to shut down.”

With Type 2 diabetes, a person's body still produces insulin — a hormone that helps turn food into energy — but is unable to use it effectively.

With Type 1, commonly called juvenile diabetes, the pancreas stops producing insulin. To survive, people with Type 1 must get multiple injections of insulin daily.

Simmons, who now has Type 1, wears an insulin pump.

“I've got to have this at all times, and I have to move it every two days to make sure it's working properly,” he said.

Help other children with diabetes, Simmons, a father of four, told his young spectators.

“Keep your eye out for them,” he added. “Do whatever you can do to make them a part of your group. Living with diabetes and managing it can be done.”

Simmons said he was fortunate during his football days that members of the Rooney family — the Steelers' owners — knew about diabetes. They understood what he was going through because they had relatives with the disease, he said.

“I needed a whole lot of help. The Rooneys did a very good job taking care of me. They had to deal with it because they had kids who grew up with it, so they made it easier for me,” Simmons said.

He could count on sugar-free jellies, pancake syrup and other healthy foods being near his grasp at training camp.

“I had to learn how to play (in games) through my lows and my highs. I had to learn how to play smarter. I had to become more of a technician, because the strength wasn't always there,” he said.

Bob Stiles is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-6622 or bstiles@tribweb.com.

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