'The signs were all there': Teen speaks out about diabetes diagnosis
The summer before freshman year of college, most students are focused on what they'll eat, where they'll live and whether or not they'll be able to communicate with their professors.
Nick Simon, who graduated from Prescott High School in May, has something else weighing on his mind as he prepares for his freshman year at UW-Eau Claire: a Type-1 diabetes diagnosis that he received mid-May.
According to the American Diabetes Association, an average of 18,000 youth per year are diagnosed with the disease, which is a result of the pancreas not being able to produce enough insulin. For the most part, adults only make up 5 percent of the Type-1 diagnoses.
Adults that are suddenly diagnosed with diabetes are more commonly diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes, which is a result of the body not knowing how to use the insulin the body produces.
Simon said the disease was dormant in his body, but once it activated there were signs.
Rewind to March and Simon made two clutch 3-pointers late in the WIAA Division 3 state semifinals to defeat Lake Mills and advance to the state championship. Simon was an 180-pound, 6-foot-1 shooting guard.
He called that moment, "a dream come true," and said, "I can't believe that actually just happened," in the tunnel from the court at the Kohl Center back to the locker room following the game.
A month later he had a nagging shoulder injury that wouldn't heal to let him return to the baseball field and a seemingly unending thirst for water. Over those four weeks Simon lost at least 20 pounds.
Joan Simon thought her son was losing weight because of disappointment with an injury that wasn't healing.
"It wasn't something that I had ever thought of or considered," she said. "All of the symptoms were there and we completely missed it. We were so focused on what was going on with his injury and we missed them. They were all there."
Weak, thirsty, exhausted
Nick felt weak, thirsty, exhausted, and urinated a lot. All of that led up to passing out in a bathtub fully clothed in his house and being driven in an ambulance.
"The whole night before I was up breathing super heavy and stumbling around in my upstairs hallway," Simon said. "The next morning my mom found me in the bathtub with all of my clothes on. She said I was conscious but she tried talking to me and I basically wasn't there to answer."
That was at 5 a.m.
Simon remembers seeing the clock at 3 a.m. and remembers going into his parents' room to tell them that something was wrong at 1 a.m. Simon had missed school the previous two days, though, so they agreed that they would go to the hospital first thing in the morning.
"I went back to my room and tried to lay down, but I couldn't really sleep and was back up to go to the bathroom at 3 (a.m.)," Simon said.
That's the last thing he remembered until he found himself in his kitchen with an EMT laying on his chest.
The kitchen was as far as Simon's father could move him because, even though he had lost weight, he said, "I'm still not a small dude."
Aided by hindsight, his parents regret not having taken him in sooner.
"There's nothing they could do," their son said. "How were they supposed to know?"
Parents feel they are supposed to know everything, though, especially when it comes to the well-being of their kids.
"I wish I would have known more about (the disease)," Joan Simon said. "If I would have gotten him in sooner, he wouldn't have had to be as sick."
The Simons now look at the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes and realize they missed them.
Moving forward, Nick doesn't plan on missing signs and he welcomes conversations with people about his early experiences with the disease. During orientation and registration at UW-Eau Claire, Simon spoke with several people to make sure he knew what resources were available to him.
Being a resource
Simon has also had the benefit of resources making themselves available to him, including Ellsworth junior-to-be Erik Lange — who has lived with Type-1 diabetes most of his life — reaching out to Simon on SnapChat.
"Right when he sent that, I thought, 'Wow, that's pretty cool,'" said Simon, who knew Lange had diabetes, but moreso as a good basketball player. "I mean, he's a sophomore from a rival town, reaching out to a senior: that impressed me."
For Lange, it was without hesitation that he was going to reach out.
"It took me more time to decide what I was actually going to say to him," Lange said. "I didn't want him to think it was the end of the world. It sucks, but I wanted him to know it's something that you can live with, even if it is tough.
"It's a big change for him. I didn't know what it was like to not have diabetes, so what he's going through is different, but I can't imagine having to relearn a different way to live."
Simon pointed out that life is going to change anyway as he goes to college and that this is one more thing, albeit, one more big thing that will change.
"I'm set to get my insulin pump in September and I'll have to monitor it big time," Simon said. "Going to college in the first place is kind of scary, but going to college and then having to do all of this diabetes stuff is going to be challenging."
"It's a little overwhelming," his mom said. "Nick has handled this really, really well. He's always been someone who sticks to the rules and follows rules, so I think he'll be all right with this. It's a really frustrating situation to be in."
All things considered, Nick Simon is grateful.
"I know it's cliche, but I feel stronger right now," he said. "Having a blood sugar of 727 is well-above fatal, but I got through that. Now, I feel like I have something to live for; like I have an extra motivation that if I could get through that, what else can I do?"