From Player to Patient: Football Star Advances Type 1 Diabetes Research

LSUIn my nearly 20 years of working at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, I have taken care of countless patients and worked on hundreds of research studies. Every patient I’ve worked with and project I’ve worked on has been special. But some kids stand out in a crowd.

Blake Ferguson is one of those patients.

Blake in January 2011, just two weeks before diagnosis.

Blake in January 2011, just two weeks before diagnosis.

He was diagnosed at Children’s with new onset type 1 diabetes in January of 2011 at 13 years old. During his hospital stay, we approached his family about participating in the START trial, a diabetes research trial funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The trial’s goal is to preserve beta cells, which are responsible for making insulin for the body. This could help diabetics take fewer insulin shots.

Despite several downsides of the trial, including five days in the hospital, 12-hour infusions of the drug Thymoglobulin and various uncomfortable side effects, the family still wanted to participate. That showed me how brave both Blake and his family are.

Spring break

The Fergusons spent the week of Spring Break 2011 in the hospital.

Blake enrolled in the trial in April of 2011 during his spring break so he wouldn’t miss any school. His family helped him make the best of it. His mom, Tracy, decked out his room with spring training baseball decorations and palm trees. The trial follow-up lasted two years with appointments as often as weekly and as long as six hours. The Fergusons never missed an appointment or an email check-in. His blood sugars and insulin doses were logged impeccably.

It was wonderful watching Blake grow and own his disease. He never let it get him down. He and his older brother, Reid, were avid football players. Blake always said he was going to keep playing despite having diabetes. He was able to manage his sugars, carbohydrates and injections despite a busy schedule of workouts and games.

Late in the 2013 football season for Buford High School.

Late in the 2013 football season for Buford High School.

Reid earned a full scholarship to Louisiana State University (LSU) as a long snapper. Three years Reid’s junior, Blake is following in his brother’s footsteps. Last summer, LSU offered Blake a scholarship to be a long snapper. His success on the football field and his participation in research here at Children’s have made Blake a great example for other patients.

The research we do at Children’s wouldn’t be possible without patients like Blake. We have more than 1,000 clinical research studies taking place in our hospitals and clinical locations. Our clinical and research teams work together every day to develop lifesaving treatments and cures to many childhood illnesses. In partnership with Emory University’s Department of Pediatrics, we have received more than $26 million from the NIH and more than $43 million in total support to fund our research endeavors. An ever-growing leader in research, Emory ranked No. 5 in the 2013 NIH rankings for departments of pediatrics.

Blake won the 2013 Chris Rubio Award for Long Snapper of the Year.

Blake won the 2013 Chris Rubio Award for Long Snapper of the Year.

While Blake is on his way to making a big impact on the football field for LSU, he has already made a big impact on our research here at Children’s.