Kaleb Dahlgren recalls being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age four. “After about four months of rebelling, I finally accepted it and realized I needed to have the needles and take care of myself to survive.” For the 22-year-old, that positive attitude eventually helped him overcome the pain of being a survivor of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash in 2018.
Taking control early in life
Raised in Moose Jaw and Saskatoon, Dahlgren was encouraged early on by his parents (both nurses) to develop healthy food habits and take an active role in managing his diabetes. “In Grade 4, I started giving myself insulin injections at lunch. At 13, I took over my diabetes care, and my parents helped only when I needed it. I felt independent and was able to get good numbers,” he says.
Dahlgren had started playing hockey at age three, before his diagnosis, and has continued to play at elite levels since then. That meant learning how to change his diabetes care to meet the physical demands of competition and training, which can cause blood sugar levels to fluctuate more dramatically. By working with an endocrinologist, he also figured out an effective formula for food and insulin during and after games. When he was 10, a top team let him go because of his diabetes, but Dahlgren did not give up. “Another triple A team picked me up, and I scored a hat trick [three goals in one game] against the team that cut me.”
His positive attitude and coping skills helped after the crash on April 6. He spent 21 days in hospital, recovering from a fractured skull, brain injury, broken vertebrae, and other injuries.
“I used the resiliency I gained from my diabetes experience to fight back and overcome the physical and emotional challenges, which helped with my healing after the accident.”
After he began intensive physiotherapy, his blood sugar levels went “wonky,” he says, so he talked to an endocrinologist about making treatment adjustments. “It’s important to seek extra help if you can’t solve the problem on your own.” Inspiring kids with diabetes
When Dahlgren joined the Broncos in 2017 as a forward and assistant captain, he created Dahlgren’s Diabeauties to show kids with type 1 diabetes that the disease does not have to affect their abilities or stop them from living. At each home game, one child was treated like a star, including dropping the puck in a ceremonial faceoff; Dahlgren also kept in touch with everyone afterwards through social media.
“It was amazing to see the impact this had on their lives,” Dahlgren says. “One young boy, who was super-shy and tried to hide his diabetes, spoke in front of the whole school about it.”
Dahlgren received Diabetes Canada’s 2019 Kurt Kroesen National Inspiration Award, which recognizes an individual or family who has overcome great odds to manage their diabetes and who continue to live a fulfilling, active, and inspiring life. “Kaleb is a cool guy in [kids’] lives and gives them strength. Parents see they can put their kids into hockey, soccer, and other sports safely, without holding them back,” says Sherri Pockett, who nominated Dahlgren. She is also membership chair for Diabetes Canada and secretary of the Winnipeg professional chapter.
Fuel for the soul
Dahlgren is now attending York University in Toronto, where he trains with the hockey team and is working hard to be cleared by the medical staff to start playing hockey again. He is studying business, and his career goal is to become a chiropractor, specializing in sports. “I’d like to eventually move back to Saskatchewan and work with elite athletes on professional and university teams,” he says.
He is also continuing the Dahlgren’s Diabeauties program at home games for the York Lions (the university’s hockey team). “It helps me feel like I am making a difference in our world, and the smiles on the children’s faces make it all worthwhile,” he says. “I found that, after the accident, giving back helped me heal.”
Here are two tips from Sherri Pockett, a certified diabetes educator, and Kaleb Dahlgren, who lives with type 1 diabetes, to help you cope with stress and minimize its effects on your blood sugar levels:
• “When you’re under stress, check your blood glucose [sugar] more often, stay hydrated, eat regularly, and keep moving if you can. Any time you need some help managing, reach out to your diabetes team or health-care provider for help and advice,” says Pockett.
• “Control the things you can control. I can’t control having diabetes or being involved in a tragic bus accident. But I can control how I respond to these kinds of stressful events. Always find the positive, be adaptable, and live life to the absolute fullest,” says Dahlgren.
Did you know?
It is important for people with diabetes to be prepared and know what to expect before being admitted to hospital, whether the visit is planned or an emergency. Visit Guide to Hospital Stays for tips to help ensure your diabetes is managed well throughout a hospital stay.
Do you know someone who you think is a Diabetes Champion? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(This article appeared in Diabetes Dialogue, Autumn 2019)
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