Wisconsin boy, football player show diabetes can't stop them - WFXS, MyFoxWausau - News and Weather for Wausau, WI

Wisconsin boy, football player show diabetes can't stop them

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A Wisconsin boy and a football player are proving diabetes can't stop anyone from becoming an athlete.

Medical experts say more than 200,000 people under the age of 20 have diabetes in the United States. But a 12-year-old from Wisconsin and a former Badgers football player used social media to show diabetes doesn't have to stop them.

"I'm just a normal kid. Diabetes doesn't mean I can't do anything," said Joey Balistrieri, who was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was eight.

"Type 1 diabetes is an auto immune disease where for some reason their pancreas is not producing insulin," said Penny Kasprzak, ADA camp director. "They are subjected to daily insulin shots as well as checking their blood glucose levels several times throughout the day."

Two years after he was diagnosed, Joey told his parents that he wanted to play football. But his mother, Therese Balistrieri, didn't think that was a good idea.

"I'm thinking he's going to pass out on the football field. That's my biggest fear to be honest with you," she said. "I can't be on the bench as a mom, I can't be telling him to check his blood sugar because he's got a helmet on."

Determined to play, Joey found out that former Badgers tight end Jake Byrne also has diabetes.

"I kinda did some research on him and found him on Facebook and kinda talked to him," said Joey. "I didn't really think that he would actually answer back to me. When he did, it was really cool."

"I get this e-mail from this kid named Jake Byrne," said Therese Balistrieri. "He told me basically, let Joey do whatever he wants to do. Type 1 diabetes shouldn't hold him back."

With his mom's permission, Joey took the field. He wears a device called the omnipod that attaches to his body and provides insulin.

"It's still scary. That aspect hasn't changed for me as a mom," his mother said. "But it brings me great joy that he can still do what he wants even despite having type 1."

Joey is currently the Wisconsin youth ambassador for the American Diabetes Association. He recently shared his story with other kids that have the disease at a camp in Rosholt.

Joey tells Newsline 9 he still keeps in touch with Jake Byrne who, by the way, plays for the Houston Texans now. Joey says his dream is to play for the Badgers. He's taking the next step this week, participating in a football camp at a high school in his area.

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