Until Wednesday, this is most of what I knew about the disease called diabetes mellitus type 1.
My grandma’s grumpy boyfriend, Steve, had it. I remember her sticking the syringe in his beefy shoulder. Maybe this is why Steve was always grumpy.
My favorite ballplayer, Ron Santo, had it. When his blood sugar was dropping off the charts like a Sandy Koufax curveball, he would eat a candy bar in the dugout to bring it back up. To a little boy, that didn’t sound so bad.
Ultimately, Ron Santo’s legs were amputated because of Type 1 diabetes. To a grown man, that didn’t sound so good.
I found a list of 68 diabetic sports personalities on a website. Ron Santo was on it. So were Arthur Ashe, Ty Cobb, Catfish Hunter, Joe Gibbs, Jay Cutler, Billie Jean King, two Robinsons (Jackie and Sugar Ray) and two Fraziers (Walt and Smokin’ Joe).
Sarah Bina is on the list. She’s a professional clogger, whatever that is. Wasim Akram is on the list. He’s a cricket bowler from Pakistan. Gorilla Monsoon is on the list. You can’t gouge out diabetes, like you can Bruno Sammartino’s eyes.
You can learn to live with it, though.
Kelli Kuehne, the LPGA Tour golfer, is on that list. She was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was 10. She had the classic symptoms: excessive thirst, frequent urination, loss of appetite, irritability. Her blood-glucose level was 376. Whoa. It’s supposed to be around 120.
“Am I going to die?” she asked the doctor.
No, her doctor said. You are going to take your insulin shots. You are going to learn how to live with it.
I met Kelli Kuehne on Wednesday, at a Starbucks in Henderson. We were going to talk for 20 minutes, half an hour tops, about learning to live with diabetes. We talked for two hours.
A lot of people are closet diabetics. They choose not to talk about their disease. Kelli Kuehne is not one of those people.
The first thing she did was lift her top to show me a little suction cup and a little vial that plugs into it. Then she reached inside her top and pulled out her external pancreas. It’s called the Animas Pump.
The pump is smaller than a point-and-click camera. Kuehne keeps hers in her bra. Maybe it wouldn’t work for Brandi Chastain, but it works for Kuehne. You can’t even tell she’s wearing it. Every eight minutes, the pump gives her another drop of insulin. The insulin keeps her alive.
Kuehne said with the pump, she doesn’t have to stop what she’s doing to give herself a shot in the arm. This comes in handy when one is standing over a birdie putt at the Kraft Nabisco Championship, or whatever they call the Dinah Shore Open these days.
Thanks to the pump, she doesn’t have to put a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in her golf bag, like her mom used to do when Kelli was tearing up the youth circuit.
Back then, Kelli Kuehne was the female Tiger Woods. Like Tiger, like her brothers, Trip and Hank, she was a teenage golf prodigy, winning everything there was to win as an amateur. She and Tiger and Trip and Hank would play basketball in the Kuehne backyard in Dallas. Kelli was 15, about 5 feet tall. The guys weren’t supposed to block her shot. Tiger blocked it anyway.
Kelli Kuehne was an All-American at Texas, won the 1999 LPGA Corning Classic, had five good years on tour, represented her country on the Solheim Cup teams in 2002 and 2003. She did not, however, go on to become the female Tiger Woods.
It might have been due to injuries, the nasty three-inch scar on her left elbow, a souvenir of radical nerve surgery. It might have been due to any number of things, mental or physical, because that’s just how golf is.
But it wasn’t due to her diabetes. Instead of yielding to it, Kuehne raises money to find a cure — more than $2.4 million for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
She will be 34 in May. She has a husband and a stepdaughter. They are priorities now. Golf? Not a priority. Educating people like me about Type 1 diabetes? Priority.
“I’m not a religious person, but I’m a spiritual person,” Kuehne said. “I think God chose me because he knew I could handle it.”
She’s nowhere near as grumpy as my grandmother’s old boyfriend, Steve.
Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.