Jayhawk Insider: The Fight Within
By Jack Dodd
As he sits at his new desk inside Anderson Football Complex, he notices a vibrating buzz from his cell phone sound from his khaki pocket and calmly checks to see who it is. He glances down at his phone to see the message; it’s not an unfamiliar message, but moreso one that is a daily occurrence and has become natural after seven years. For KU offensive line coach Luke Meadows, receiving a daily “glucose notification” is part of his normal routine as caretaker for his 14-year old daughter, Addyson, who was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of seven.
Technically, juvenile diabetes is the same as type 1 diabetes, since you can be diagnosed at any age. Type 1 is permanent and isn’t dietary based, while type 2 can be overcome with certain lifestyle changes. An autoimmune disease, juvenile diabetes initially starts with an increase in hunger and thirst as well as irritability, which leads to the pancreas to stop producing insulin – which allows the body to receive energy from food. These warning signs started popping up around the time Addyson, one of three children in the Meadows family, was entering first grade.
“What ends up happening since your pancreas can’t process sugar anymore, it excretes in urine faster, so you always have to go to the bathroom and are always thirsty and hungry since your blood levels are up,” explained Meadows. “Then your irritability goes up because your blood sugar is high and low. That was one of the things that drew our attention to it, just the way she’d been acting.”
One diagnosis wasn’t enough as the doctors informed them that Addyson’s initial stomachaches had been caused by celiac disease, which is an allergic reaction to wheat. The additional diagnosis requires two separate doctors and a lot of caution on the Meadows’ part to make sure Addyson is ingesting the right nutrients and foods without gluten.
A Hot Springs, South Dakota, native, Meadows is coming off his most recent stop as an assistant coach at Eastern Michigan. He has also coached at Garden City Community College, Southern Miss and South Dakota State. For a football coach, it isn’t easy to deal with the trials of moving jobs, while juggling a child with an autoimmune disorder that requires constant attention.
“Anytime we go to a home stadium, it’s not a big deal because she gets to bring her own food,” Meadows said. “The dietary restrictions are very difficult, so she can’t walk in with any food she needs. With celiac on top of that, most of the foods are gluten free but not gluten sensitive. At home, it’s easy, but on the road people have to call ahead to get her through the gate and a lot of stuff has to happen for her to get in. There’s that aspect from a football standpoint.”
Meadows also mentioned the fact that from a diabetes standpoint, there’s certain things she can’t do that all of her friends get a chance to do because of the food restrictions. There are not as many food restrictions with diabetics as there are with celiac, so if she watches what she eats with diabetes, it’s not as demanding of a change. But when it comes to gluten, it’s a bigger pain for the family.. She can have sugar, but Meadows mentioned that Addyson often playfully jokes that “I can have sugar. I have diabetes, I don’t have a lack of flavor.”
Addyson’s youthful and playful personality helps her not shy away from her disease, but instead try to build awareness for it through the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JRDF), a non-profit organization that funds type 1 diabetes research. As a JRDF ambassador, she gives talks and speeches at events trying to raise money for the organization. She also does some fundraising for the JDRF One Walk. For her mother, Rochelle Meadows, this is a great way to spread the word.
“Last year some girls from her high school golf team joined us for the walk,” Rochelle said. “She has applied to be a part of the Children’s Congress, which is a group of children who go to Washington DC and request congress to give money to research and awareness. We are supposed to find out soon if she made it.”
Addyson’s resiliency is apparent to her parents as they have noticed the obstacles she’s overcome throughout her childhood, yet they aren’t shying away from what the disease might’ve held back from their daughter compared to other children.
“What you have to know about diabetes is that even if she does the same things and eats the same food every day, her blood sugar numbers will never be the same,” Rochelle said. “Sickness, stress, hormones, how much sleep she got, a test coming up all effect it in some way. I think for her the biggest obstacle is being different than the other kids.”
With celiac disease to boot, Addyson can’t eat at most restaurants or eat at friends’ houses due to cross contamination. This also means having to constantly monitor blood sugar levels and deal with different health care providers. For a family that has moved five times in the last nine years, that isn’t an easy task to juggle insurance companies, doctors and where to get supplies.
“She (Rochelle) would get up at 2 a.m., every night to check her blood sugar,” Meadows said. “If the sugar is high, then they have to adjust her pump. If it’s low then she has to get something to eat. Now that messes with her sleep cycle. It’s never off of your mind, especially when they’re that young and then when they leave home, you’re still thinking about it to make sure she’s doing what she needs to.”
As Addyson is working as an ambassador for the JRDF in Washington D.C., Luke is settling in at his new job at Kansas, and the rest of his family recently joined him in Lawrence. The connections built and relationships formed from this disease helped show how much of a bond it can form with others who have it.
“They kind of have their own little diabetic cult because most of them wear pumps nowadays,” Meadows said. “When she sees someone else that’s wearing a pump, they automatically have a connection with each other.”
Meadows’ favorite story to tell about how close the community of diabetics is when he came across a defensive coordinator at Syracuse whom he had never met, and he somehow found out about his daughter having juvenile diabetes. A simple comment made all the difference as the coach approached him and said, “It’s hard, but if you need anything I’m here for you.” Along with that story, he smiles as he talks about his favorite shirt his daughter gave him which reads “Best Type 1 Diabetes Dad ever” on the front.
“The community of lives that are affected by Type 1 is really close,” Meadows said. “It’s a bad disease, but there is always somebody out there that has something worse. We’re not at the point where we think we have it worse off than anybody else in the world.”
Now as a 14-year-old, Addyson still has to be reminded sometimes to take her insulin and sometimes rebels which is common with teenagers growing up.
“Addy does not look sick even though she has a chronic illness,” Rochelle said. “So if we were up all night because her pump wasn’t working and kept going off or her blood sugar was constantly low, she didn’t look different. When she goes to school the next day they just see Addy.”