Jonsel Gourkan believes ignorance about type 1 diabetes cost him his professional football career, but is hopeful that improvements to diabetes technology means that less people with the condition will experience discrimination now.
“In my 29 years with type 1 diabetes I’ve been lucky enough to have had careers as a professional footballer, pop star and actor.
This might all sound glamorous but along the way I’ve had my share of turbulent times, including many hypos and problems with my mental health.
I have also encountered ignorance from many people who find it incredibly hard to understand the condition.
Fortunately, the tech improvements which have come along in the last five years have massively helped me and I have come to realise that the world isn’t really against you when you have type 1.
When I was young and playing sport, CGMs were non-existent. I would always test my blood sugar before and after a football match, and my dad would always be on the side-lines with my diabetes kit. He was a human CGM and had an impressive warning system!
The occasional ignorant comment was hurled my way but I always felt everyone understood what type 1 was all about.
I learnt that this wasn’t true several times in my teenage years. But I always tried to stay positive, saying to myself “when I’m smiling my diabetes doesn’t exist”.
My dad always told me to be proud of who I was, to stand tall no matter what, never to be ashamed or embarrassed by my type 1 and to never waste my time entertaining minds with no room for growth.
Then a chance came to play professional football in Turkey. It was at this point that having a CGM would have made all the difference.
On my first match day I was nervous and excited. I wasn’t on top of my type 1 as the fact I was now playing pro football was the main concern.
I took my morning injection and stupidly didn’t eat anything to cover the dosage I had given myself. A few hours later I was in a state of disarray, and then fell unconscious.
The chairman and club officials saw my behaviour as disrespectful to the club and saw my type 1 as a disability that meant I had no right to play football on a professional level. I believe my contract was terminated because of the hypo I had that day.
To this day I think about how, with Dexcom or Libre, the hypo wouldn’t have happened. I would have been warned.
Fortunately the tech treatments that now exist have improved the lives of those with type 1. This is so important as it eases stress and helps you deal with the thunderstorm that type 1 can bring you at times.
Education is vital and raising awareness is something I always take so much passion in doing.
I tell people to always have faith that good things will come your way, don’t be ashamed of asking for help and advice on finding tech that is going to help you. And remember, the type 1 community will always have your back.”
Jonsel is currently performing his one-man show about life with type 1 diabetes called: Keep Calm, I am only Diabetic.