November 2013

Medical Section:Lessons for Life: Former football star shares story, motivates youth

Author: Michael Paskevich

Kendall Simmons took plenty of punishing hits in his Super Bowl-winning football career, but none was bigger than a diagnosis of Type 1 Diabetes that could have derailed his life were it not for dramatic lifestyle changes. The retired athlete now faces challenges of a different sort as a public speaker, discussing the disease and providing hope and advice to help prevent others, particularly kids, from suffering a similar fate.

He stopped by the Boys and Girls Club of the Lowcountry in Bluffton recently and shared how his Southern upbringing and lack of knowledge about diabetes landed him in a hospital during his first training camp with the Pittsburg Steelers in 2003. But first he had a question for about 100 excited teens and tweens gathered in the bleachers at the club’s gymnasium.

“How many of you know someone with diabetes?” Simmons asked, showing no surprise when nearly every hand shot skyward.

“I grew up in the South, loving the food like everyone else,” said the Mississippi-born Simmons, “so I ate plenty of fried chicken, sweet potato pie, ice cream, cookies and tea cakes. I didn’t know that diabetes has a lot to do with your food choices and staying active.”

While Simmons excelled in high school sports and earned a scholarship to attend Auburn University in Alabama, he continued to savor his favorite fare as he worked his way to the next level.

“It came out of the blue,” he told the youngsters, recalling how he was stricken shortly after undergoing seemingly routine outpatient surgery to repair an ailing shoulder. “My body just got mad at me, and I lost 45 pounds in a couple of weeks. I fought it for a while and really didn’t want to deal with it, but now I can look back at what happened as a blessing instead of a hindrance.”

The Steelers didn’t give up on their number-one draft pick, and Simmons adjusted accordingly, changing his eating habits and enduring insulin shots on the sidelines to keep playing. “You lose strength as your blood sugar rises, so every snap of the ball was a challenge,” he said. Simmons nonetheless became a star at offensive guard and picked up a pair of Super Bowl rings before collective injuries led to his retirement in 2008.

Today he spends several days a week on the speaking circuit for Norvo Nordisk, a pharmaceutical firm focusing on diabetes, and wears an insulin pump he calls “my mechanical pancreas” that monitors and regulates his blood sugar. He feels fortunate to share his hard-won knowledge about nutrition with his own four young children as well as others, and his interactive chat in Bluffton also touched on issues that went well beyond achieving athletic excellence.

“We all have our own dreams and expectations of what we want to do with our lives,” Simmons said, advising the youngsters to avoid peer pressure and to turn to trusted adults for crucial advice and support. “You’re all going to run into things in life that seem insurmountable at first, and you can either react negatively or positively,” he said.

“So don’t be afraid to ask questions and get help from adults. Take advantage of your opportunities and remember: there’s nothing you can’t do.”


Hilton Head Hospital is hosting a special event “Take Charge of your Diabetes” on Saturday, November 9, 2013 from 8:30 am – 12 Noon at the Country Club of Hilton Head for all people affected by diabetes. This special Diabetes event is a free, 1Ž2 day event that will provide valuable education for individuals with diabetes and their families and caregivers. Diabetes is among the top leading causes of death in both Beaufort and Jasper counties. Our goal is make sure residents have access to information that will help them lead healthier lives.

The free educational event will include the following presentations
8:30 am – Doors open/Registration
9:05 am – A Sweet Journey Presented by Elizabeth Millen
9:30 am – Nutrition for Diabetes: Separating the Myths from the Facts– Presented by Elizabeth Huggins, MESS,RD,LD,CDE
10:15 am – Using Technology to Help You Achieve Your Health Goals – Presented by Delisa Staton, RN,BSN,CDE and Elizabeth Huggins, MESS,RD,LD,CDE
11:00 am – Diabetes and You with Question & Answer – Dr. Orlin Sergev, MD,PhD,FACE

The Country Club of Hilton Head in located in Hilton Head Plantation at 70 Skull Creek Drive, Hilton Head Island. For more information or to register for the special Diabetes event, call 1-877-582-2737 and select “2” for Hilton Head Hospital. Deadline to register is Wednesday, November 6.

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