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Faces of diabetes: Michael's story

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Michael Brauer, 22, sits at the sports desk at the Daily Globe where he recently was hired as a reporter. Brauer has been living with type I diabetes since he was 14.

Editor's note: In November, which is Diabetes Awareness Month, the Daily Globe is running a story each Friday featuring a "face" of diabetes -- everyday people who live their lives while coping with the complications of a disease that affects millions of Americans. Today meet Michael Brauer, a 22-year-old sports reporter from Nebraska who now lives and works in Worthington. Next week, the last installation of the series will feature Suzanne Hagen of Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- In "Song of the South," Uncle Remus stated, "You can't run away from trouble, there ain't no place that far."

While Michael Brauer would probably agree, he also believes that running is keeping trouble in check. Diagnosed with type I diabetes at age 14, he credits his love of cross country running with helping him stay in control of the disease.

"For the first two years I had a lot of trouble keeping my A1c number down," Brauer stated.

Hemoglobin A1c is a blood test that shows how well blood sugar has been controlled for the past 90 days. Glucose and blood fats combine to coat red blood cells, rather like icing on a cake. By measuring the percentage of blood cells with the coating, physicians can tell what the long-term control of blood sugars is for a diabetic patient. While a non-diabetic person would average 4 to 6 percent and a well controlled diabetes patient is less than 7 percent, Brauer's number hovered around 11.

"That is bad," he said. "That's way too high for way too long."

The non-absorbed sugar makes the blood vessels brittle, which leads to breakage. It normally begins in the eyes and the lower extremities, which is why diabetes can lead to blindness and amputation.

In his junior year of high school, Brauer began running cross country. While it may have made the adults in his life a little nervous, he kept at it.

"This is where so many diabetics go wrong," he said. "They think they can't do things like that, but (diabetes) is more of a reason to do things."

The more he ran, the better his body absorbed.

"I could almost eat like a normal person, and was using less and less insulin," Brauer stated. "I just kept getting healthier."

He still runs, and that important number that once hovered so high now stays in the 6.5 range.

Many type I diabetics are diagnosed as children, but Brauer said it isn't unusual for teenagers to be diagnosed. He had the common symptom of extreme thirst, and said his vision was also blurry.

His mom consulted a home remedy book and saw that his symptoms matched those of diabetes. She took him to a local doctor in their small town of Utica, Neb., who discovered Brauer's blood sugar was at 530. Normal is around 80 to 100. The doctor thought Brauer had type II diabetes, and gave him some medication to take for a week to see if things would improve.

"As we were leaving, a nurse pulled us aside and told my mom to take me to a hospital," Brauer explained. "She said we shouldn't wait."

Brauer's mom did as the nurse suggested, which may have saved his life. He was in the hospital for a week.

The learning began the first day. Shots, diet, counting carbohydrates. One day a normal 14 year old boy, the next learning to be a mathematician, physician, personal trainer and dietician.

"I was sitting in my hospital bed thinking, 'Wow, I can't believe I have to do all this,'" Brauer said. "I mean, I was still trying to get used to high school, and now this?"

A nurse, speaking to his mother, said he would be fine for the first few months, then would likely go through a rebellious stage. Whether that nurse was really directing her comments at his mother or was sending him a message Brauer doesn't know, but he decided then and there it was not going to happen.

"And it never did," he stated with a smile.

He was the only diabetic in his high school, but the other kids didn't seem to think much of it, he said.

"At first I had to explain once or twice a day when people would see me shooting up at lunch," he laughed.

An advantage to Brauer being diagnosed as a teen was that he could actively participate in his care from the start.

"At first you're almost scared to do it on your own," he admitted. "It's a lot to know. But then it becomes habit. Most diabetics can look at a plate of food and tell you how many carbs are on it."

Brauer started his diabetic life eating at the same time each day and sticking to a schedule, but at age 22 has learned enough that he can "eat on the go just like everyone else."

Holding a job with crazy hours (he is a sports reporter for the Daily Globe) could make things more complicated, but Brauer doesn't let it.

"If you let diabetes be an excuse for not doing something, you've let it get the best of you," he stated.

The knowledge that diabetes can cause blindness and amputation is what keeps him motivated to run, check his feet every week, take precautions such as dental and eye exams and take care of himself. Even with all the preventative measures and testing, every now and then things still can go wrong.

"Last week I was starting to feel woozy, but when I checked my blood my numbers were fine," he said. "I ended up going in to the doctor. It turns out my tester was giving incorrect readings and needed to be calibrated."

Something Brauer was cautioned about as he hit his late teens was alcohol, a caution he wanted to pass on to others.

"You can drink, but be careful," he said. "Light beer or straight liquor is best, but will hit you hard. People that are drinking are not making the wisest of decisions."

The effects of overindulging can mask or mimic the effects of low blood sugar, he added, and it is hard to tell if the woozy feeling is from too much liquor or from a diabetic problem.

"If you're going to drink, you had better make sure your tester is not too far away," he added.

As far as advice for anyone newly diagnosed with type I diabetes, Brauer is realistic, but upbeat.

"It sucks now, but you'll get used to it and you can't let it hold you down," he stated. "Everyone has things to deal with in their lives -- mine just comes with insulin and blood sticks."