Growing up in the small town of Ludowici, Georgia, all Dustin McGowan ever wanted to do was play baseball. The last thing he expected was a type 1 diabetes diagnosis that came when he was 21 years old and pitching for the Toronto Blue Jays.

There were days when McGowan worried that overwhelming fatigue would keep him on the bench. Then he had to get used to wearing an insulin pump on the mound.

McGowan, who now lives in Tallahassee with his family and coaches at St. John Paul II Catholic High School, fought back from multiple arm surgeries and a type 1 diabetes diagnosis to play professional baseball for 18 years. 

The challenges he overcame helped him and his wife, Jilly, know what to do when their daughter, McKensy, was also diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

“It’s heartbreaking for any child to get diabetes,” Dustin McGowan said, “especially when it’s your child and you know the hardships that come with it, but McKensy is tough, and we have faith she can handle it.”

The McGowans are the honoree family for this year’s Tee Off for Tots Golf Tournament and Car Raffle, benefiting The Proctor Endowment for Children with Diabetes at the Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Foundation. They are helping to raise funds to start a sports program especially for children with diabetes.

Dustin and Jilly have two daughters, McKensy, 12, and Brooklynn, 9. McKensy was diagnosed when she was 5.  

“I’ll never forget the day she was diagnosed,” Jilly McGowan said. “We had been to the beach and had ice cream, and she had taken two naps. She was going to the bathroom a lot, so we checked her using Dustin’s glucometer. Her blood sugar was so high that it didn’t even register. We scooped her up and took her to the emergency room.”

The McGowans are passionate about using their influence to show children that type 1 diabetes does not limit their potential. When Dustin was with the Miami Marlins, the family worked to raise funds for research and advocated on behalf of children with diabetes.

“We did a program in Miami, and some of those young kids didn’t know that they could have type 1 diabetes and play sports,” Dustin McGowan said. “The most important thing for me is showing kids that they can play sports and be successful at the highest level.”

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas does not produce insulin, a hormone that controls the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood stream. It is typically diagnosed in children or young adults, although it can develop in adults. There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, and it requires careful monitoring and balancing of food, activity and insulin to regulate blood sugar levels to prevent short and long-term complications.

About 187,000 children and adolescents (younger than age 20) and about 1.4 million adults reported having type 1 diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2020. 

Proceeds from Tee Off for Tots help fund the Tallahassee Memorial Metabolic Center’s detection, education and treatment programs, which help children as young as age 2 and their families cope with the medical and emotional challenges of diabetes.

The golf tournament takes place Oct. 19 and 22 at Golden Eagle Country Club. This year’s car for the raffle is a 2021 Acura TLX (valued at $39,025) donated by The Proctor Dealerships. The drawing will take place at 10 a.m. Monday, Nov. 9.

Proceeds help send children with diabetes to an annual camp where they can engage in fun activities and connect with their peers. About 40 children attended camp last year, and 25 attended virtually this year. Funds raised through Tee Off for Tots will allow funding for this camp to continue and help start a new program, where children can explore and learn sports in a safe and empowering environment.

Diabetes camps are staffed by medical professionals, which brings peace of mind to children and parents. Without careful monitoring, a child’s blood sugar level can become life-threatening, which means allowing a child to sleep at a friend’s house or attend an overnight camp can be a scary prospect for parents. 

“We rarely sleep, and when we do, it is lightly,” said Jilly McGowan. “We are up and down the stairs all night to monitor McKensy’s blood sugar levels. If her sugar is low, we’re waking her up to drink juice; if it’s high, we’re giving her shots of insulin.”

Diabetes camps erase fears and allow children to have a typical camp experience.

“If there are doctors there, I am worriless,” said McKensy, who loves to ride horses.

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How to help

Visit TMH.ORG/Car to purchase a raffle ticket for a 2021 Acura TLX (valued at $39,025) donated by The Proctor Dealerships. The suggested minimum ticket price is $85. Only 1,250 tickets will be sold. The drawing will take place at 10 a.m. Monday, November 9, at The Proctor Dealerships. All proceeds benefit The Proctor Endowment for Children with Diabetes at the Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare Foundation.

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