By David Willis
No matter how focused Mike Morander is on the field, there are times that he simply needs to take a break.
"Sometimes my whole team will be practicing and I'll be on the sidelines eating fruit snacks or drinking Gatorade," he said. "It doesn't make me angry, but it gives me passion."
It has nothing to do with a lack of mental or physical toughness. In fact, the senior has plenty of both. It is, instead, a reality he has dealt with for nearly his entire life.
A standout in both football and baseball, many have no idea Morander has lived with Type 1 diabetes for the last 14 years.
It was Morander's father, Ron, who first noticed something was wrong.
"I was 4," Mike Morander remembered. "My mother was at work, so I was hanging out with my dad. I was going to the bathroom a lot, about 20 times in an hour, and my father asked me if there was something wrong. I said I didn't know, but that I was always really thirsty."
His father brought him to the hospital, where doctors delivered the news.
"They came in and told me I had diabetes," he remembered. "I was really too young to understand. All I really remember is that I was afraid of the shot I needed."
More specifically, Morander was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Often referred to as juvenile diabetes, those with the disease are dependent on insulin because the pancreas does not produce enough to regulate blood sugar. Type 1 accounts for about 10 percent of diabetes cases, but is actually the more common form in children.
"It was very jarring," said mother Sandy. "As a family, we knew that life would really change. But we had to understand that you can live a full and complete life if you handle it right."
The Moranders had no family history of diabetes, which is common according to Dr. Lori Laffel, a pediatric endocrinologist and the chief of the Pediatric and Adolescent section of the Joslin Clinic in Boston.
"I think the age he was diagnosed with a blessing in disguise," said Sandy Morander. "He was young enough that he doesn't remember life without it. Michael has had it for 14 years now."
Now 18, Morander has plenty of experience dealing with diabetes. He checks his blood sugar level seven times a day, usually before meals, practice, and any time he isn't feeling well. He does so by pricking his finger and putting the blood on a test strip.
Once forced to inject himself with insulin, Morander now wears an insulin pump. The pump, which is attached to his belt, holds a reservoir of insulin that is injected automatically through a tube that runs to a spot on his stomach. He only removes the pump to take a shower or play football.
"Technology has changed a lot," said Sandy Morander. "Before the pump, he had to be sitting down for dinner at exactly 5:30 p.m. every day. In a crazy world, if you were stuck at the grocery store at 5:25, you had to worry. And something as simple as food labeling has helped a lot. Before it was mandatory, we had to measure everything he ate."
As soon as he entered high school, Morander was anxious to participate in sports. But that offered a new challenge to his coaches.
"We had some concerns because we didn't know how to deal with it," said Ken Maglio, the head coach of the varsity baseball and football team. "We had kids with diabetes, but never a kid that has to be regulated so much. It can be high, and you know when he's low."
Morander began to emerge as a tight end for the football team his junior season. Known more for his blocking, the 6-foot, 180-pounder caught 11 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown.
"That year we used him to get the corner (on runs)," said Maglio. "He was the best blocking tight end we had. (In the offseason) he worked very hard and has just great hands."
When Andover switched to the wide-open shotgun attack this season, Morander spent much of his time as a slot receiver. He responded by catching 23 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns, the latter two good for second on the team to two-time Eagle-Tribune All-Star Matt Rayner.
His biggest game came against Boston College High School, when he showed his explosiveness with four grabs for 122 yards and two touchdowns.
He was recently one of nine athletes to receive awards for courage and excellence from the Massachusetts Football Association.
"We had a real blast," he said. "I love catching the ball. It was great to have the chance to make the big play and not always be watching the ball handed off.
"I am very passionate about football. I get very emotional, and different kinds of adrenaline and emotions affect me differently. Sometimes my body will react and I will get really high. Or I will get excited, then my blood sugar will decrease and I will have to eat before, during and after."
He credited teammate and best friend Kevin Hitchko with preventing him from neglecting his health.
"He does a great job," said Hitchko, who also plays baseball with him. "But sometimes he needs someone to remind him. He needs someone to make sure he does when he needs to do and doesn't get carried away with football."
The football success has carried onto the baseball field. After serving as the JV catcher last season, Morander won the starting job and has caught all 10 varsity games.
"It's been great," he said. "I know I have a lot to work on, but being able to get that varsity experience has been a lot of fun. It's been fun to work with the pitchers and learn to communicate with them."
Known for his defense and strong arm, Morander caught two runners stealing against Methuen on Friday, May 2. He is also heating up with the bat. He is hitting .333 (8 for 24) with four RBIs. He had his best day of the season on Monday, May 5, when he went 3 for 4 with a two-run double against Chelmsford.
Morander's athletic career won't end when he graduates from high school. He will be playing football at the elite Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., in the fall. He is also interested in trying out for the baseball team if he has the chance.
And he doesn't expect his diabetes to affect him there, either.
"There was a time when I really didn't want to have diabetes," he said. "But now it is a fact of life. Whenever I miss out on something because of diabetes, when I finally do get it, it make it so much sweeter."
The Mike Morander File
Weight: 180 pounds
Position: Wide receiver/catcher
Baseball: Has started every game at catcher this season. Is hitting .333 with four RBIs, and threw out two base-stealers against Methuen.
Football: Broke out in Andover's wide-open offense. Caught 23 passes for 470 yards and four touchdowns last season. Played tight end as a junior.
Family: Father Ron played a season of baseball Arizona State. Mother Sandy played field hockey at Keene State. Brother Kyle played baseball at Andover.
The facts of Type 1 Diabetes:
- Occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar.
- Is a chronic, lifelong illness with no known cure.
- Those afflicted must take insulin, either by injection with a syringe or by pump, to keep blood sugar at a normal level.
- Blood must be monitored throughout the day.
- Unlike Type 2 diabetes, it is not associated with obesity or poor lifestyle.
- Accounts for only about 10 percent of diabetes cases in the U.S., but is more common than Type 2 in children.
- Those with the disease often do not have a family history, and it is unclear what causes the pancreas to stop producing insulin.
- Was known as juvenile diabetes, but the name was dropped because people of all ages can develop the condition.
- Mismanagement or complications can lead to blindness, kidney failure, amputation of limbs and death.
- Proper management can allow for a virtually normal life.
— Source: Lori Laffel, pediatric endocrinologist from Joslin Clinic in Boston.