Number Six and Diabetes: Jay Cutler On Numbers

#6 Jay Cutler Photo-Courtesy Chicago Bears

| Nov 3, 2014

As an NFL quarterback, Jay Cutler makes his living putting a football into the hands of an open receiver before getting slammed to the ground by a huge defensive lineman.  It's a stressful occupation, all about timing, a little luck, and seeing the big picture in a split second.  

So when Cutler lost 35 pounds and felt continually tired during April workouts for the 2008 season with the Denver Broncos, he wrote it off as stress-related.  When a team trainer pulled him aside after a routine physical, Cutler never saw it coming.

"I think you need to see a doctor," the trainer told the 25-year old quarterback, pointing to a blood sugar of 550. "I think you have type 1 diabetes." Cutler remembers how the conversation ended: "Everything is going to be OK."

"I knew the word 'diabetes,'" Cutler says, looking back at that moment, "but not much more than that. I went to the doctor after leaving the trainer's office and learned how to take injections and use a glucose meter. I started asking questions and went online looking for information."

And Cutler did something else. He made a phone call to his quarterback coach from Vanderbilt, where he had set numerous school records for touchdowns, rushing yards, and most starts as a quarterback. But the call to Jimmy Kiser wasn't about stats.

"Jimmy was a type 1 diabetic," Cutler says, "and there were times when he would start talking off the wall stuff, and it wasn't going anywhere, and all of us on the team knew it was time to bring Jimmy a Coke. He told me to wait 30 minutes after injecting insulin and see what's happening, because everybody's body is going to react differently."  

Cutler continues, " I had lived 25 years a certain way and suddenly had to start counting carbs. It's a very personal disease, and people aren't going to help you with it. You need to deal with it yourself. It's a transition phase for me right now. I'm still in it."

Cutler tried an insulin pump early on, but quickly decided that injections were easier (and pumps aren't really designed for NFL football games). After some trial and error, he learned to go into the game with a blood sugar between 100 and 150 mg/dL  and then check every time he comes off the field during the first and second quarters. If he is low, there is always Gatorade nearby---the drink players pour from a barrel over the coach after every win. By half time, Cutler says, he pretty much knows where his blood sugar is going to be for the rest of the game. That's the routine he's been following for the past two years.

"I check more than average people do," he says. "I always want to see where I'm at. So if I start getting over 200 before we take off for a road game, I have no problem sticking myself on the plane in front of everybody. I check when we land, too. I always have a Snickers or Milky Way nearby to offset a low." Cutler takes Humalog before meals during the day and long-acting Lantus at night. His most recent A1C was  6.1%.

This proactive approach to injections follows Cutler off the field as well. When he's at a restaurant, the Humalog pen appears as soon as the food is served. He says, "I'm really not embarrassed about it, and I know that many people are private about taking an injection and will excuse themselves to go the restroom. I inject right at the table. It's a disease that I've got. It isn't my fault, and I deal with it the best I can."

While leading the Chicago Bears to the NFC Championship game against Green Bay last season, Cutler was the most-sacked quarterback in the NFL. After getting tackled before the end of the first half, he tore a ligament in his left knee. He tried to start the third quarter, but was pulled out of the game. As this took place on the field, blogs and sports talk show hosts who didn't know about his injury started in about his lack of "toughness" and "commitment to being a team leader." And soon the words, "Well, he is a diabetic," followed. Cutler ignored all of it. "They just don't know about the disease," he says of critics who throw the D-word at him. "When they use diabetes as the reason for a bad game, I can say I've played more good games than bad ones with diabetes."

Right now, when not looking for an open receiver downfield, Cutler's eyes are on the most recent test results. In both venues, things seem to be working just fine.

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Categories: A1C, Counting Carbohydrates, Diabetes, Diabetes, Food, Football, Humalog Insulin, Insulin Injection, Insulin Pumps, Jay Cutler, Routine Physical, Type 1 Issues

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Posted by Anonymous on 2 September 2011

Awesome testimony! You keep rocking Jay!

Posted by Anonymous on 2 September 2011

Great article. I race BMX and was diagnosed with type 1 at age 28. I can relate in a lot of ways. Keep up the great work Jay!

Matt Neal

Posted by Anonymous on 2 September 2011

Been T1 for 40yrs! Going on a great getaway out of the country to celebrate my anniversary! Not my B- day, not my wedding anniversary, but living a full life w diabetes! Never let it keep me down, gets me down, until I decide it is my disease and my fight! It SUCKS it will always SUCK but everyone has ther own issues!

Posted by Florian on 3 September 2011

Good article but I don't buy this statement;
"It's a very personal disease, and people aren't going to help you with it."
I have been a practicing Type 1 for 44 years and I have gotten lot's of help from people around me who know about diabetes and issues with hypoglycemia. I'm thankful that they knew what to do when I needed them. Also the pump support group that I belong to has been more helpful than anyone on my medical care team when it comes to dealing with the real world practical side of diabetes management.

Posted by tonyp3101 on 6 September 2011

WHY does nobody ever review these articles before they post them??? It is only 20 years out of date to use a chocolate bar to treat a hypo! Wake up!!

Posted by Anonymous on 7 September 2011

If he uses a chocolate bar then that's what he uses, despite it being "20 years out of date." And I would agree that it's a personal disease and every successful diabetic has a role in making it liveable. All the friends-experts in the world aren't going to do it for you. That's what he meant and it was pretty clear to me.

Posted by rightmuch on 11 September 2011

I've been a pump user for 20 years and had never knew that much about Lantus. After reading this article about Jay's insulin regimen I decided to try it. While there are many pros to the pump, I've now decided to ditch it. My control is good and the Lantus does a good job of maintaining a steady basal for me. So long, infusion sets and all the site problems! I'll be back when the closed loop system finally, if ever, becomes reality.

Posted by Anonymous on 23 December 2011

I was diagnosed with Type 1 at age 12. I am now 70 years old and still going strong. I use a pump and what difference it has made. I have gone through all of the changes in keeping this thing under control. Thing get better all of the time. I hated to see you leave my city of Denver but certain you are health and happy in Bear country.

Posted by Anonymous on 29 January 2013

Thanks for this article. T1 since 2005. I've often wondered how Jay Cutler manages his diabetes, particularly during games. His last A1C was 6.1 ?!?! He either has outstanding control or he deals with a lot of lows. The Lions are my hometown team but I root for the Bears whenever they play anyone else even though both teams are in the NFC North. Go Jay!

Posted by Anonymous on 22 October 2014

I work at Vanderbilt and we all are big Jay Cutler fans. I am proud of him showing other type 1 patients that you can go on with your life. I was a Bronco's fan when he was there. Now I am a Bears fan. Jay will always be special to us at Vanderbilt. He is one of us! I am

Posted by Anonymous on 16 November 2014

I've had Type 1 for the past 40 years and I have never had an A1C over 7 and I agree that diabetes is a personal disease. I also inject at the table or wherever I am and am not even slightly embarrassed by it.

Posted by Anonymous on 27 November 2014

yeah he has had it for only 6 years, try living with it for 30.

Posted by Anonymous on 12 December 2014

Ya I have had diabetes for 5 years and I play high school football I'm a MLB/OLB Jay has bin a big testimony for me. I'm not a bears fan (go cowboys) I love to see Jay play for the bears

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