August 30, 2012

Diabetes can’t hold back Little League champion

Luke Brown, left, celebrates his team’s win in the regional championships, which enabled them to advance to the Little League World Series.

When Luke Brown was 5, he slid into second base as a little black box flew out of the back pocket of his baseball pants.

The object was an insulin pump, his lifeline, a device charged with keeping his blood sugar in check. But he wasn’t prepared to stop at second, and snatched it off the ground as he dashed for third, his mom, Amy Brown, recalls.


In typical fashion, even then, Luke wouldn’t let type 1 diabetes control his life or prevent him from playing the sport he loves most, baseball.

Luke’s dedication and ability to adapt his needs also earned him a spot on the Goodlettsville All-Star baseball team, which represented Tennessee and the Southeast in the 2012 Little League World Series.

The team won the United States Little World Series’ championship title Saturday, Aug. 25, in Williamsport, Penn.

“It’s been really exciting,” said Amy Brown.

Luke was the closing pitcher in that game, striking out the final batter for a 24-16 win over California. The 12-year-old, from Greenbrier, Tenn., also hit two run-scoring doubles. This time his insulin pump was tucked safely inside a special hand-sewn pocket on his sliding shorts.

The insulin pump is programmed especially for Luke, keeping his blood sugar levels within a targeted range each day. He’s had it since he was 5.

Luke Brown, left, with teammate Jayson Brown, at the welcome home celebration in Goodlettsville.

Luke was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 4. He had just started playing baseball for the first time, after watching his older brother, Ryan, play for three years. His preschool teacher told his parents, Amy and Robert Brown, that he had used the restroom every 10 minutes, all day. He also had an insatiable thirst.

“At first I didn’t think anything of it,” said Amy Brown. “It seemed to happen all of a sudden.”
The Browns thought playing baseball in the heat was a factor, but a trip to the pediatrician confirmed fears that he might have diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own cells, destroying insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. Unlike type 2 diabetes, type I diabetes can’t be reversed with diet and exercise.

Luke Brown, standing second from left, with his teammates at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn.

Within 24 hours of diagnosis, Luke and his family secured an appointment at the Vanderbilt Eskind Diabetes Clinic to see William Russell, M.D., director of the Ian M. Burr Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and Diabetes.

“We thought we would have to put baseball on hold until we figured things out,” Amy Brown said.

“Dr. Russell said he needed to keep it up and told us he has a lot of patients who are athletes. ‘Luke can pursue what he wants to pursue,’ he said. He encouraged us that day.”

The clinic worked with the family to teach them about counting carbohydrates, checking blood sugar and administering insulin. They’ve come a long way.

Russell says he is proud of Luke’s accomplishments and thankful that the Browns set a positive example for other families of children who have diabetes.

“What Luke did in baseball is huge, but what he has done for other kids with diabetes is way bigger,” Russell said. “Luke, with the strong support of his family, makes being ‘normal’ with diabetes look like a piece of cake.”

Amy Brown said a child who has diabetes shouldn’t be treated any different.

“Never stifle what your kid wants to do,” she said. “You have to take care of the medical condition, but also have the same expectations and regular goals. You have to put them out there and let them pursue what they want to do.”

Luke, who’s in seventh grade, has told his parents what he wants to do: go to school to study medicine to work with children with diabetes.

For other families, Amy Brown offers this:

“It’s not a death sentence. Don’t give up. There is a lot of life to live.”