Pro football player helps boy with diabetes live his dreams

NEW BERLIN (WITI) -- It is estimated that one out of every three children born after 2000 in the United States will be directly affected by diabetes. In 35 years, one in three American adults will have the disease. A young man from New Berlin, with help from his family and an NFL hero, won't allow diabetes to defeat him.

Joey Balistrieri is like many other happy, healthy 12 year olds. He lives to play sports.

But Joey has Type 1 diabetes.

According to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's website: 

"Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which a person’s pancreas stops producing insulin, a hormone that enables people to get energy from food. It occurs when the body’s immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, called beta cells.

While its causes are not yet entirely understood, scientists believe that both genetic factors and environmental triggers are involved.

Its onset has nothing to do with diet or lifestyle. There is nothing you can do to prevent Type 1 diabetes, and—at present—nothing you can do to get rid of it.

People with the disease must carefully balance insulin doses (either by injections multiple times a day or continuous infusion through a pump) with eating and other activities throughout the day and night.

They must also measure their blood-glucose level by pricking their fingers for blood six or more times a day. Despite this constant attention, people with Type 1 diabetes still run the risk of dangerous high or low blood-glucose levels, both of which can be life threatening. People with Type 1 diabetes overcome these challenges on a daily basis.

Insulin injections allow a person with Type 1 diabetes to stay alive, but do not cure the disease, nor do they necessarily prevent the possibility of the disease’s serious effects, which may include: kidney failure, blindness, nerve damage, heart attack, stroke, and pregnancy complications."

Joey was diagnosed with diabetes when he was eight. However, Joey wasn't going to let diabetes bring him down.

He tackled his challenge head on, with an assist from his nephew Cooper, after he found out. Cooper also has Type 1 diabetes.

The Balistrieri family acted quickly. They became educated about a disease that has reached epidemic proportions in some areas of the country. It became their mission to educate others about diabetes facts and fallacies.

Thanks to the Omnipod -- the world's first tube-free insulin pump, Joey now has a new lease on life. There is no more sticking his body with shots of insulin -- but that doesn't mean he can forget about his Type 1 diabetes.

The American Diabetes Association named Joey and his nephew Cooper as this year's "Youth Ambassadors" for southeastern Wisconsin.

On Wisconsin's annual "Diabetes Day" in April, Joey traveled to the Capitol in Madison to speak with legislators to educate them and let them know diabetes is an epidemic that cannot be ignored.

Last month, Joey, Cooper and their families were at Grafton High School for the American Diabetes Association Southeastern Wisconsin Tour de Cure.

Besides being an ambassador and educator, Joey is that 12-year-old kid who loves to play sports.

After his diagnosis, Joey's mom was hesitant in allowing him to participate.

His big brother Tony, an incoming junior at Waukesha Catholic Memorial and center on the Crusaders state championship team was talking with a friend who happens to be a huge Wisconsin Badgers fan. The subject of Joey came up.

Now former Badger Jake Byrne is a second year tight end for the NFL's Houston Texans, who also has Type 1 diabetes. With big brother Tony running interference, Joey got an idea. He went on Facebook and reached out to Jake.

Byrne gave Joey's mother the peace of mind she needed to allow Joey to continue playing football and other sports.

Byrne gave Therese Balistrieri peace of mind, and he gave her son his experience as a Type 1 diabetes trailblazer.

CLICK HERE for additional information via the American Diabetes Association.