As a Type 1 diabetic, Domi has to test his blood up to 15 times a day and inject himself with insulin, but that hasn’t slowed him down.
Imagine being a 12-year-old boy and a doctor tells you that you have diabetes. Now, imagine if that boy’s dream is to play in the National Hockey League, just like his father.
That’s what happened to new Canadiens forward Max Domi.
Domi, the son of former Maple Leafs tough guy Tie Domi, was in the car with his mother, Leanne, driving home to Toronto from Detroit 11 years ago when he kept asking her to stop at gas stations so he could urinate. He was also incredibly thirsty. After they got home, Leanne took her son to see their family doctor, who ran blood tests and then informed the boy that he was a Type 1 diabetic.
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks and kills the beta cells of the pancreas.
“No, or very little, insulin is released into the body,” the Diabetes Canada website explains. “As a result, sugar builds up in the blood instead of being used as energy. About 10 per cent of people with diabetes have Type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes generally develops in childhood or adolescence, but can develop in adulthood.”
The first question Domi had for the doctor after the diagnosis was: “Can I still play hockey?”
“Once I figured out that was a yes, nothing else really mattered and I said: ‘bring it on’ and then we’ll take care of everything in stride and just find a way to do it,” Domi said during a phone interview Thursday afternoon from Toronto, where he is spending most of this summer after being acquired by the Canadiens from the Arizona Coyotes last month in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk.
“I had no prior knowledge of the disease and neither did my mom,” Domi added. “The only thing I was really worried about was getting a needle. I absolutely hated needles and it’s kind of ironic because now I stab myself with needles all the time and I actually don’t mind it at all. It all happened pretty quick and your life definitely does completely change.”
Domi tests his blood up to 15 times a day, including before he goes to sleep, when he wakes up, before every meal, two hours after every meal, before exercise and every 20-30 minutes while exercising. He wore an insulin pump for about eight years, but last year decided to go back to injecting himself. He injects insulin before every meal and also takes a long-acting insulin, which he said keeps his blood-sugar level pretty flat throughout the day.
On Thursday, Domi attended Dskate Toronto, a hockey camp for boys and girls age 7-17 who are living with Type 1 diabetes.
“I didn’t have the luxury of coming to a camp like this,” Domi said. “It’s something that I was definitely a little jealous about, but it was cool to come down and spend some time with the kids and share my story and get involved a little bit and make sure they’re having some fun. It’s an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”
Domi is an inspiration to the kids at Dskate, the same way former Philadelphia Flyers captain Bobby Clarke was to him. Clarke was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic when he was 13 and went on to play 15 seasons in the NHL, winning two Stanley Cups, and was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1987 — eight years before Domi was born.
As the son of an NHL player, Domi was used to meeting famous people while growing up, but remembers being star-struck at age 14 when he met Clarke for the first time at the International Silver Stick tournament in Whitby, Ont.
“That was the first time that my jaw kind of hit the floor and I was like: ‘Holy s—! That’s Bobby Clarke!’ ” Domi recalled. “That was pretty cool. I’ve done lots of cool things in my life and that’s by far the coolest thing. The reason being is that the guy was like a statue to me … he was iconic in my life. I was like: ‘All right, well if he can do it, I can do it,’ and I told myself that pretty much every single day. I don’t know if I even really said much to him and I don’t even know what he said exactly to me. I was just kind of jaw-dropped and staring at him.”
Domi noted there have been major advancements in the knowledge and treatment of Type 1 diabetes since Clarke’s days in the NHL. Domi is helping promote the Countour Diabetes App that helps provide self-management with a new My Patterns feature that identifies trends in insulin levels and provides easy-to-follow advice.
“We have it pretty easy compared to what Mr. Clarke did,” the 23-year-old Domi said. “If he could do it back then, then we can all do it now. I’m trying to be living proof of that going into my fourth year in the NHL. So it’s been a good run and hopefully I’m just getting started.”