Nationwide, close to 21 million people are living with diabetes. Ninety percent of them are living with type 2 diabetes but just 10 percent are diagnosed with type 1, which can be debilitating. Trey Porter is a type 1 diabetic as well as a division one collegiate athlete serving as a starter for the University of Nevada, Reno men’s basketball team, which has gained national attention.
KUNR reporter Stephanie Serrano spent some time with Trey to understand how he has coped with his disease.
On game day, the lights in the Lawlor Events Center darken and the fans welcome the Wolf Pack starters, by lighting the arena with their flickering cellphone flashlights. Trey’s name gets announced and he screams at the top of his lungs, yet it’s muted by the roaring crowd watching him as he high-fives teammates stepping onto the court. The 22-year-old senior has a strong ability to change the momentum of the game with his shattering defensive blocks and, of course, his infamous dunks.
“I think my role is to help us out defensively and then just be that energy guy, that excitement guy,” Trey said. “Our team is pretty relaxed, pretty chill, so I feel like that’s why I feel like I got to be a little bit hyped when I dunk the ball.”
“It’s one of the reasons why he’s intense and as emotional as a player. There is a little bit of victory in every amazing play that he has because it is the demonstration of that perseverance and overcoming of some of the struggles he had to go through,” said CarrieAnne Boak Trey’s mother.
Trey’s mother, CarrieAnne Boak, lives across the country in Woodbridge, Virginia in the suburbs of D.C. where Trey grew up. Living on the West Coast and this far from his family is new to him. CarrieAnne reminisces about his childhood, times at the swimming pool, Trey cannonballing in, creating an ocean of waves. While his mother describes him as a happy-go-lucky-type of kid, it wasn’t so easy.
“He was always kind of sick from the time he was born. Not like deathly sick, but he was always lethargic or he would be overly crying or he would be overly sleepy,” CarrieAnne said. “I mean, you knew something was wrong and the doctors kept telling you that nothing was wrong. I can remember whenever he was diagnosed, laying in intensive care and wondering whether or not he was going to make it.”
At just 18 months, Trey was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Most juvenile diabetes diagnoses are made between the ages of 9 and 13. Trey was born without a functioning pancreas to release insulin and help control blood sugar. This effects his kidneys and his overall health. From that early age Trey has been dependent on insulin shots, without them he runs a higher risk of serious complications and even death.
“I will never forget him being at his school and me getting that frantic call from the teacher saying that they had to call the ambulance that Trey was not responsive and nothing medical that they had available to them was working.” CarrieAnne said.
Trey was about 6 years old when he experienced his first close encounter with death and CarrieAnne remembers tense moments as Trey grew older, having to hand-squeeze oranges into his mouth when his blood sugar would drop, his body becoming confused, drowsy and weak.
Taking care of Trey became normalized, just a way of life for CarrieAnne and her family, a family that works together. And though Trey was sick, he took ownership of protecting his three sisters and never letting the disease take over.
“One of the things I've said to Trey from the time he was little is that, ‘You have diabetes; diabetes doesn't have you. You have to control it; don’t let it define who you are. It is something that you have to learn to cope with,’” CarrieAnne said.
As a 14 year old Trey was switched from physical shots to an insulin pump, a device which provides insulin through a catheter placed under the skin 24 hours a day.
“It changed my life, saved my life,” Trey said. “Yeah, so I test, then enter, how many carbs I ate. That’s a big thing; I have to count my carbs, enter that in and it actually makes it so effortless really. I just put that in and press a couple buttons and then it gives me a shot.”
Trey has to test his blood sugar when he wakes up, before he eats, after he eats, when he goes to bed, before his game, after his game and, yes, even multiple times during practice.
While his teammates are working on drills Trey has no choice but to test his blood sugar when his body is sending him those signs he has grown so familiar with: headaches, dizziness, blurred vision and thirst.
If the level is high, he waits for an insulin shot to kick in. If the level is low, he drinks a Gatorade or downs an apple sauce packet to quickly get back on the court.
The team has a doctor at hand and Trey has the opportunity to see an endocrinologist through the UNR School of Medicine.
In addition to daily practice, the team also makes time for the weight room.
Matt Eck is the Pack’s strength and conditioning coach and is in his eighteenth season with the team. Eck says over the past eight years, the program has developed specialized nutritional diets because they play such a big role in performance and recovery.
“In a special case like Trey, we have some sort of potato for every breakfast. We will for him have simple things, like having French toast or pancakes available for him, not necessarily for everybody else but that makes a big difference in his body,” Eck explained.
Trey is in a unique position, living with a serious disease as a high level athlete. Being a part of the Pack is offering new opportunities. He’s able to showcase his skills in front of NBA recruiting coaches while building a platform as a role model.
When he walked in the auditorium, the kids squealed in surprise to his height, the man is 6’11. He recently visited Peavine Elementary during an assembly on respect and responsibility.
“This is actually the first time in my career that kids have reached out to me, or their parents have, to talk about being a type 1 diabetic and the struggles they face,” Trey said. “I’ve told them, if they ever need or have a question or need someone to Facetime call or talk to about it, I am more than open to give my number to them to talk to them and hopefully be that mentor.”
Trey never imagined he would be in this position. Now, he’s in his last season and is working to play at the next level professionally.