Marcus Schmidt is a happy-go-lucky 9-year-old who always seems to light up the room with his contagious smile.
It’s not uncommon for him to put others above himself, whether it be his teammates on his baseball and basketball teams or his peers at Imagine Prep Superstition in Mesa.
But in March 2018, his grandmother noticed a change in Marcus’ demeanor while on a camping trip during spring break.
“He was being kind of disoriented and he wouldn’t get out of bed one morning,” said Alysha Schmidt, Marcus’ mom. “My mom told us to keep an eye on him because she said something wasn’t right.”
Marcus showed signs of the flu. His face was flushed of color, he had trouble keeping food down and was weak. One morning, Marcus’ father, Andrew, found him lying on the bathroom floor.
He collapsed walking to the family’s truck. His eyes appeared to be sunken. He had become so weak that he couldn’t untwist the cap on a water bottle.
“I took a picture of him and sent it to my mom,” Alysha said. “She told us we couldn’t wait for an urgent care to open and to get him to an emergency room.”
Marcus was immediately seen by doctors. Alysha said it was the fastest they’ve ever been seen at the ER. But had they waited any longer, Marcus could have lost his life.
“His sugars were in the 800s and they told us he was basically going into DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis),” Alysha said. “They gave him insulin slowly because if you do it too fast, it could cause brain damage.
“He basically went into a coma for a couple days.”
Marcus was diagnosed with the most serious form of diabetes, Type 1, in which the pancreas can’t make insulin to regulate sugar levels. It can result in death by DKA if left untreated.
“Our whole world turned upside down,” Alysha said. “We had to go through training before we came home to learn about what we had to do. When we came home we just had to learn how to do everything.”
The American Diabetes Association estimates as many as 1.5 million people have Type 1 diabetes. People can be diagnosed at any age.
Marcus had to receive multiple daily injections of insulin when he arrived home from the hospital. Alysha and Andrew took shifts at night administering insulin every two hours.
Realizing how difficult it was for Marcus being woken up every two hours on school nights, he was equipped with a Dexcom G6 Continuous Glucose Monitoring System. Created by Mesa-based Dexcom, Inc. the device measures sugar levels every five minutes and delivers the results to Marcus and his family through an app on their Apple devices.
If sugar levels are too high, the pump administers insulin. If low, it can automatically stop all deliveries.
“It has arrows that tell him whether it’s going up or down and whether he needs sugar right away,” Alysha said. “That really helps especially when he is playing basketball or baseball. You don’t have to prick all the time. He can just look at his watch or phone and get a reading that way.”
The device has allowed Marcus to continue playing sports like he did before his diagnosis. He plays first base for Skyline Little League in Mesa, taking after his favorite player, Paul Goldschmidt. He also plays basketball through CCV Stars.
Marcus recently helped his baseball and basketball teams win their league championships.
“It felt good,” Marcus said. “We celebrated for that and baseball.”
Marcus said his device doesn’t get in the way when he plays. Sometimes, he forgets it’s even there.
Alysha was concerned with how kids at his school or at local parks and swimming pools might react to the device. But there have been no issues, especially given Marcus’ positive outlook on the entire situation.
“He wears his Dexcom like it’s his badge of honor,” Alysha said. “If people ask, he just says, ‘Oh, that’s my pump. My pancreas is a quitter.’ He just goes with the punches.”
Marcus has proved to be resilient throughout his life. He was born with amniotic band syndrome, a rare condition that causes limbs and other body parts to be entangled in loose strands from the amniotic sac. He had multiple surgeries as a result, including one that was three hours long when he was just 9 months old.
“I just couldn’t help but think how much one kid has to go through,” Alysha said. “But we know no matter what he goes through, nothing will keep him down.”
Marcus is currently in a new season of basketball, playing games every Saturday. He runs up and down the court with the other kids, not showing any signs of his chronic illness.
He refuses to let it affect him in a negative way.
“He’s a total rock star,” Alysha said. “He takes every challenge and rises above it.”