There are two bags that Kaden Armstrong carries around with him everywhere he goes on the Mesa Eastmark High School campus. His school bag. And his diabetes bag.
He keeps snacks, a blood sugar kit, a monitoring device, and syringes to give himself shots.
On his left forearm are the words, all in caps, “TYPE ONE DIABETIC.” He had that put on at the beginning of last year.
“You’re supposed to have some kind of identification in case you have an episode,” the junior football and volleyball player said. “I’m not a huge fan of the bracelets, jewelry and necklaces. My mom and dad thought it would be a good idea to have something on me to identify that I am a Type I diabetic in case it happens.”
He hasn’t had a diabetic episode playing sports since he was diagnosed with it four years ago. But the second game of his junior season last August, Armstrong had a severe asthma attack during a football game on a stifling Friday night that caused him to be rushed to a hospital by ambulance.
He was treated and released from the hospital the same night.
Allergic to the grass fields on which he plays, Armstrong keeps an inhaler everywhere he goes, as well.
“It’s a double-whammy,” he said. “It was the first severe asthma attack I’ve had like that. Usually, I can take a puff from an inhaler and it gets better. But this was the first time that I couldn’t seem to catch my breath.”
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Armstrong, a strong 5-foot-10, 205-pound linebacker/fullback in football, perseveres. He takes care of himself and doesn’t let diabetes and asthma define him.
He said he has had COVID-19 but other than being fatigued for two weeks, he came out of that OK.
“There’s no reason to live out of fear,” Armstrong said.
Armstrong is aware of professional athletes who have succeeded with Type 1 diabetes. He also is aware of what can happen if he isn’t on top of it.
Before he was diagnosed, he couldn’t stop hydrating and couldn’t stop going to the bathroom.
“He was so thirsty,” said Kaden’s mom, Amy. “He was stopping at every vender and chugging stuff. But it just goes right through him. I was going, ‘What is happening right now.’ It was horrible. And he didn’t look very good.”
His vision became blurry. His mother called the pediatrician. He was diagnosed with Type 1.
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Because he was always involved in athletics, from football to swimming to gymnastics, and he was in good condition, Armstrong wasn’t detected with Type 1 until he was 13. He is 17 now.
“I’ll never forget, we were in hospital and I cried when we walked out,” Amy said. “There is a nurse that I always think about when I think I have to feel sorry for him. She said, ‘I know you’re sad right now but he’s going to be fine.’ She points to this room and says. ‘This little boy has cancer he probably has a couple of days. Your son is going to be fine. He’s going to get through.’ “
There is a close family friend who is Amy’s age who has walked Kaden through what he needs to do.
“He knows he has a very good support system,” she said.
One of those is football teammate Mack Molander, a junior quarterback and the defending state javelin champion who also manages his Type 1 diabetes.
Eastmark football coach Scooter Molander, as a parent, knows how to make sure that his son is staying on top of what he needs to manage it, checking his blood-sugar levels, making sure he’s administering shots when he needs to.
“He is awesome,” Molander said of Armstrong. “He’s a great leader. He works super hard.
“They do a good job with it. They take ownership.”
Armstrong only began playing volleyball two years ago. But he’s developed into a leader on and off the court for an Eastmark boys volleyball team that will be playing in the state tournament this spring.
“On the court, there is no impact (with diabetes and asthma),” volleyball coach Rich Lanzone said. “He’s one of our most vocal athletes, too. He’s a leader. He takes his role seriously.
“Whenever he needs to, he’s got that monitoring device. He’s well-prepared. He always gives me a head’s up whenever he needs to step aside and make sure he’s OK.”
A heavy sleeper, there are times at night when his mom or dad will get him up when they know he needs to give himself the shot to make sure his blood sugar is regulated.
Like the tattoo on his arm, Armstrong has embraced having diabetes.
“It’s a part of who I am and I’m not going to let it define me,” he said. “I have Type 1 diabetes and I embrace that. But I’m not going to let it drag everything in my life, and let it affect my life.
“I’m going to conquer it as best as I can. It’s just one more thing to overcome.”
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