Braves’ Duvall plays with a secret weapon: his insulin pump

He started losing weight. He was tired. His mouth was dry. 

“I kept on losing weight, kept on losing weight,” Adam Duvall told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “It got to the point where I was kind of embarrassed to show up to spring training looking the way I did because it looked like I hadn’t done anything in the offseason.”

A blood test confirmed what Duvall suspected. He had type 1 diabetes. It was spring 2012, and Duvall hadn’t yet made it to the major leagues. But he was well on his way and didn’t intend to change his path despite the curve ball. 

“I was already in the thick of it,” Duvall said. 

About 1.25 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, which was once called juvenile diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. But it’s not just children who are among the 40,000 diagnosed each year in the U.S. Many, such as Duvall, are diagnosed when they are adults. 

Type 1 diabetes is much less common than type 2 diabetes, which often can be controlled with diet and exercise. People with type 1 diabetes must take insulin to survive. 

Duvall’s baseball career already revolves around numbers: namely his batting average, RBIs and home runs. To manage his diabetes, his focus constantly is on a different number: his blood sugar. If it’s too high or too low, Duvall runs the risk of a seizure or coma, though that is rare when diabetes is well-controlled. 

It’s a balancing act of the right amounts of food, exercise and insulin. And it can be complicated. Duvall, who turned 30 on Tuesday, relies on both an insulin pump and a glucose sensor to help him. 

On one side of his stomach, Duvall wears the glucose sensor, which looks like a small plastic disc. It’s held on with a sticky patch, and it sends blood sugar numbers to his pump. 

His insulin pump is connected to the other side of his stomach. Several inches of plastic tubing serve as the drip line that keeps him alive. That tubing connects to Duvall’s insulin pump.

“I wear it in my back pocket,” he said.

Even when he’s playing ball, Duvall wears his pump and sensor. Sometimes, he has to adjust his insulin dose on the field. 

“I try to stay as on top of it as much as I can,” Duvall said. “I’m always paying attention to it.”

Fans pay attention to it, too. Duvall said he once was called out on Twitter for using his “phone” in left field. He actually was giving himself insulin. 

Other times, Duvall’s blood sugar drops too low. When that happens, he may reach for Gatorade or glucose tablets. Away from the field, Oreos and milk are a favorite to raise his blood sugar. 

“I think lows are the worst because you need something that’s in the dugout,” Duvall said. “If I’m high and I’m out in the outfield, I can just give myself some insulin.”

The combination of his pump and sensor allow Duvall to see his blood sugar trends. If he’s too high or too low, the pump alarms — whether he’s on the baseball field or asleep.

“It seems like there are days when this thing is going to set off every alarm it has,” he said. 

During a recent night, his pump alarm sounded for a low blood sugar, then a high blood sugar. The next alarm let Duvall know his pump needed a new battery.

“Anything else?” Duvall said. “I just want to go to sleep. But you can’t because this thing won’t stop until you fix the problem. The hardest part is to get a solid night’s sleep.”

Now six years into his diagnosis, Duvall said he has a good grasp on managing his diabetes. But he still has his challenging days, and controlling diabetes takes constant effort. During breaks from baseball, Duvall likes to meet with young fans who also live with diabetes. He knows he’s a role model and proof that his chronic disease won’t slow him. 

“As long as you pay attention, get educated on it and control it, you should be able to do anything you want to do,” he said.

» About the article

Alexis Stevens joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2000 as a sports page designer and currently is a crime and public safety reporter. She has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 35 years and wears an insulin pump and glucose sensor. Alexis interviewed Adam Duvall before a recent game at SunTrust Park, where the two discussed the constant challenges of managing diabetes. 

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