Jethro Morrison has a very unusual life with diabetes. Both he and his son are living with Type 1, and he’s a purple belt kickboxer. We asked him for a few details about kickboxing with diabetes – and their double diagnosis…
Could you tell us your diagnosis story?
It was in April 2006 at the age of 22 years old. I had no family history of diabetes and no knowledge of the condition at all. I was putting extra hours at work, so I had gone to work on a Sunday and I remember feeling like an absolute wreck that morning. I felt light-headed and almost as if the world was “swirling” around me. It was the strangest feeling.
Later that evening I slept, hoping to feel better in the morning. But in fact I was feeling worse, disorientated and extremely thirsty. I went to see a doctor and tried to explain the symptoms to him with some difficulty. I explained that I had been out with some friends on the Saturday evening and his suggestion was to try a drug screening (thinking maybe I had consumed a ‘spiked’ drink). He said if those were clear we would need to schedule a brain scan and an appointment with a neurologist. The drug screen came back clear and my symptoms worsened over a couple of days.
I then went to see another doctor who straight away pricked my finger to find my glucose levels were 30 mmol/l. He diagnosed me and admitted me to hospital immediately. Once I had received insulin I was feeling back to normal in just a few hours. I was admitted over the Easter weekend and had several days to come to terms with what the rest of my life was going to look like.
How did you get into fighting, and what kind of fighting do you do?
Since I was very young, I’ve had a love for combat sports: judo and karate as a youngster and then boxing after school. I transitioned into the mixed martial arts disciplines, including some wrestling and jiu-jitsu, Bbfore starting the grading journey in kickboxing. I am currently a purple belt kickboxer and plan to become a brown belt before the end of this year. The grading process is very intense and involves a lengthy cardio and technique session, followed by fighting several rounds to showcase your skills (depending on your level). I love the process of refining my skills and I believe fighting is the perfect metaphor for living with a chronic condition like Type 1 diabetes. It takes discipline, technique and a whole lot of grit and determination to be successful!
How do you manage diabetes and kickboxing?
Training is fairly predictable, where you can learn how your body and blood glucose typically react. I know if I am in a good range, I will need at least 20g – 30g of carbohydrates prior to training as I expect glucose levels to drop. When going into a grading or a fight, it is quite challenging. I have got it wrong in the past where I have underestimated and had a horrible hypo and also where I have eaten too many carbs to prevent a hypo and ended up sitting at 18 mmol/l by the end of the session.
I have not mastered this yet, but I try to ensure that I have enough carbs and tend to run my glucose levels a little high in these instances. They don’t happen often but the consequences of going low in these scenarios could be severe.
What was it like when your son was diagnosed?
My son got sick at age 4 and he started to display some of the Type 1 symptoms. He was very lethargic, thirsty and kept going to the bathroom. I was concerned and did a finger prick test which was too high to read on my glucometer. My heart sank.
My wife and I knew what that meant and had to get our heads around it as we rushed off to the emergency room. Despite already being diabetic myself for 13 years at the time, we needed to learn about this condition from a different perspective – that of parents and caregivers. We had to refine carb/insulin ratios and continuously relook at them, particularly with our son being so young and growing.
Where I felt comfortable that I would wake up in the night with a hypo, we were extremely nervous that our son would not and this caused a lot of anxiety as we would wake up sometimes four times in a night to do fingerprick tests and ensure he was not too low. We used a few different insulins and tools to help us and have got into quite a good space now where he is achieving good time in range.
How do you manage two people with diabetes in one household?
We eat, sleep and breathe diabetes in our house!
What we try and focus on is the fact that eating wholesome and nutritious foods that are lower in carbohydrates is healthier for everybody, regardless of whether you have diabetes or not.
So we try to eat as healthily as we can as a family. Before any meals or snacks, there is “diabetes time” for my son and I where we check our glucose levels, calculate carbohydrates and take our injections. In the last two years, we’ve moved onto continuous glucose monitors which has been a game changer for us, allowing us to track movements in our glucose levels and manage our time in range in order to make adjustments where necessary.
We also make sure we keep the right team around us – we see our doctors three or four times every year and get our HbA1Cs done. We see our ophthalmologist, podiatrist and dietitian annually as well. This ensures we keep track of our health proactively to prevent complications.
What would you say to someone who’s struggling with their diabetes?
Diabetes is not a death sentence and should not be allowed to hold you back!
Everything I have achieved in my adult life has been with diabetes. In addition to my fighting hobby, I also work in a very demanding profession. I studied my bachelors and honours degrees part-time and went on to become a qualified Chartered Global Management Accountant. Currently, I’m working as a finance executive for a JSE listed company. I have also been married for almost 15 years to my sweetheart who I met just two months after my diagnosis and we have three beautiful children together.
Juggling all these different roles is challenging at times, especially with diabetes never giving you any time off!
My encouragement to you would be to learn all that you can about your condition and use the best tools you have to your advantage as a Type 1 warrior. Get the best people and coaches in your corner. Be part of a community like Sweet Life in South Africa and know that you are not alone. It is going to be tough. It is going to be a fight for your life but it is a fight you can win!
What makes your life sweet?
My family and living life to the full. I love learning new things and reading personal development material. As an avid sports fan, I enjoy watching martial arts, rugby, formula one racing and the list goes on. I enjoy good rock music and playing guitar when I have time. I’m keen on travelling and visiting new places. I have been very blessed to go on an overseas trip to Ireland recently. My wife and I plan on doing a lot more traveling with our family in future.
I also love giving back to the diabetic community through online forums, blogging and getting involved with Diabetes Advocacy in South Africa. There is a lot of negative stigma related to diabetes and I enjoy changing people’s mindsets and educating them about our condition. Type 1 warriors around the world are awesome people! Thank you for the opportunity to share my story.
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