High School : : General
Friday, February 19, 2010

Keller doesn't let diabetes slow him down

Jim Ecker        
Jon Keller has been sticking needles in his body since he was 14 years old, but there's no need to inform the authorities. It's perfectly legal.
Keller, 17, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in the fall of 2006 when he was a freshman at Xavier High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There was great concern and anxiety at first, but it hasn't slowed him down a bit.
Now a senior, the 6-foot-5 right-hander is ranked 49th in the country in the Class of 2010 by Perfect Game USA and he's got a scholarship in his back pocket to Nebraska. He'll throw Sunday in the Pitcher-Catcher Indoor Showcase at Perfect Game, anxious to show what he's got and possibly improve his stock for the draft this June.
Keller gets stares on the mound due to a fastball that was clocked at 94 mph in a minor league park last summer, and he gets occasional stares in the dugout when he whips out his insulin kit and gives himself a shot.
His teammates at Xavier have become accustomed to seeing him stick a needle in his stomach or arm. "They all know I have it now, and they like to watch it. Before, they had no idea what I was doing," he said.
It's different when Keller is playing baseball with relative strangers.
"When I go to showcases it gets really weird," he said, laughing, "because all the guys are like, 'What the hell is that kid doing?'"
The answer is simple: He's managing a potentially dangerous disease, and managing it extremely well.
"We're proud of him," said his mother, Joni Keller. "He's really taken ownership and he's managing it."
Jon is comfortable talking about his diabetes and also comfortable managing his disease in public.
"Jon has no issues with whipping up his shirt or his sleeve and giving himself a shot right in front of everyone," said Joni, "to the point where I'm like, 'You might want to check and make sure that doesn't make everyone nauseous."
Jon began losing weight in the fall of 2006, about nine pounds. It was alarming. "He came up the stairs with just his boxers on to get his clothes, and I could see his ribs," said Joni.
That wasn't all.
"I was going to the bathroom like all the time, always hot and sweaty," said Jon. "In the middle of the night I would always wake up and just be drenched in sweat."
"I noticed he was just drinking Gatorade like it was going out of stock," said Joni.
After about a week, Joni got on the computer and went searching for answers, trying to match Jon's symptoms with various web sites. "She narrowed it down to either I had leukemia or diabetes," he said.
Jon got tested and the doctor confirmed it was type 1 diabetes.
"He was very strong and brave when we were in the doctor's office, and they said you're going to need to go to the hospital right now," Joni related. "When we got out into the parking lot he just burst into tears and he held me in his arms."
One of Jon's friends at Xavier had experienced a medical problem and thought he might die, but had been afraid to tell his parents. That thought crossed Jon's mind.
"I said, 'Jon, I promise you, this is manageable. You're not going to die,'" Joni said. "His first thing back to me was, 'Can I play sports?'"
Unfortunately, the first answer to that question was incorrect and troubling. "A doctor that we met there (at the hospital) told him, No, he didn't think he'd be able to play sports," Joni said.
That news spread around the hospital and was quickly refuted. "We had doctors coming in and nurses saying, 'There's no reason you can't play sports and lead an active life,'" Joni recalled.
That's turned out to be absolutely true. Jon leads an active life, which includes playing for the Xavier basketball team this winter. Nonetheless, there were some disquieting moments at first.
"I wasn't really sad or upset or anything until they told me everything that I had to do when I got out of the hospital," Jon said. "And then it kind of hit me, 'Like wow, this is pretty serious.' It's more overwhelming than anything, because there was so much stuff they told me in a like a week, and I had no idea what was going on.
"The first doctor I had told me I would never be able to play again, so that's what really bothered me. I was really upset about that. That was kind of rough, hearing that."
Jon was hospitalized for about four days at Mercy Hospital in Cedar Rapids as he learned more about diabetes and how to manage the disease. The doctors wouldn't let him leave until he learned how to inject himself with insulin shots. His parents, Joni and Al, had to learn, too.
"When it was our turn, my hand was shaking," said Joni.
Jon learned about proper diet, exercise, needles and much more.
"I'll never forget this," said Joni. "Jon was sitting in his hospital bed and he said, 'Mom, you know what? Everybody should have to eat like this.' And I said, 'You know, you're right, because if we did we'd all be that much healthier."
Jon got out of the hospital in the fall of 2006 and reported for basketball practice at Xavier, then moved right into the baseball season that spring. He has to inject himself five or six times a day, but it's routine now. He monitors his blood-sugar level and makes the necessary adjustments, even during games.
"It's so under control, it doesn't even bother me at all," he said. "It's part of my life and I'm used to it. It's nothing big anymore."
Jon has read articles about other athletes who have diabetes, including Seattle Mariners pitcher Brandon Morrow and Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. It gives him inspiration and confidence.
"Definitely," he said. "I see that they can do it, so obviously I can do it, too. I'm just excited for what the future holds."
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