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K Foley Schmidt Off To Dartmouth, Leaving His Lifeline Behind
St. Thomas Academy’s Foley Schmidt isn’t letting a dangerous disease keep him from pursuing a college degree and playing football at Dartmouth.
With high school football in the rearview mirror, senior Foley Schmidt counts down his final days at St. Thomas Academy and imagines kicking field goals for Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the fall.
Parents Paul and Shannon share emotions of excitement, anticipation and trepidation as Foley embarks on a personal and medical journey that will alter lifestyles and their unique bond.
The former Cadets quarterback and all-state kicker has a severe form of Type 1 (juvenile) diabetes that requires 24-hour monitoring of his blood sugar, which Foley does with a grab bag of syringes, meters and juice boxes.
Sleep time is a completely different realm, however. Foley, whose body excessively burns calories, must be awakened every hour to ensure his glucose does not drop enough for him to slip into a diabetic coma.
For much of the past 11 years, his mother has reported for that duty, sleeping on an air mattress in Foley’s room in their Inver Grove Heights home.
She sets an alarm clock to wake up, prick one of her groggy son’s fingers and test his blood before each settles back into another restless sleep cycle.
In three months, that maternal role will fall to a stranger in Foley’s dormitory.
The family is conducting a full-court press in arranging for caregivers to perform the mundane but interminable task once classes start. Private nurses cost tens of thousands of dollars, no small bill with tuition running more than $45,000 a year at Dartmouth.
leading option is hiring Dartmouth medical students, whose study habits might be conducive to such nocturnal nursing.
“I know when I’m putting my head on the pillow next year she’s going to be putting her head on her pillow worrying about me, thinking about me,” Foley said. “It’ll be tough at first. I’m hoping it’ll be a smooth transition because that will make it easier for her and my dad.”
Cutting the cord is never easy. Try letting go of a lifeline.
“I’m sure I’ll be terrified,” Shannon said. “But I’m excited for Foley. The kid has dealt with a lot in the last 10 years. He’s accomplished a lot. He should have that opportunity to go away to college like other kids.”
Dartmouth College, the prestigious Ivy League school that accepts only 1,100 freshmen annually, is preparing for Foley’s arrival. He will be housed near the campus clinic and likely live alone to accommodate a caregiver.
Dr. Jack Turco, the school’s director of health services, also is an endocrinologist and diabetes specialist. He said there are 15 to 20 diabetic students on campus but none who require 24-hour monitoring as Schmidt does.
“Foley’s got a very unusual situation,” said Turco, who is coordinating the Schmidts’ effort to hire medical students. “I’m going to do everything we can so he can be well supported and to help the family make arrangements as needed.”
Foley dislikes the fuss but knows it is necessary, and he hopes to assimilate as he has most of his life.
“I have not slept over at a friend’s house since sixth grade. Kind of crazy,” he said. “You can’t do a lot of the things your buddies are doing like go up to a cabin or take a trip. I’ve become more accepting of it.”
Three million Americans have Type 1 diabetes, according to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. The disease strikes children suddenly when the pancreas fails to produce and regulate insulin, the hormone that converts blood sugar into energy.
Patients are dependent on injected or pumped insulin for life. On average, the life expectancy of a person with Type 1 diabetes is shortened by 15 years.
Foley was diagnosed when he was 7. Over the past decade, numerous tests and specialists have been unable to determine why his diabetes is so ravenous, his insulin level so volatile.
Adult males typically burn 2,500 to 3,000 calories a day. Foley burns about 4,000, and his body can store only 1,500 calories at any one time, according to his physician, Dr. James Dufort.
Factor in the daily practice and playing regimens of a three-year football and hockey career at St. Thomas Academy, plus three years of club soccer, and Foley’s testing routine seems like a fourth sport.
It is a relentless balancing of insulin, food and exercise, with Foley constantly replenishing the energy his body ferociously burns.
During peak performance, when blood sugar can drop dangerously low, it is not uncommon for him to come home and devour a whole pizza, cookies and fruit, washing it all down with a glass of milk and a jug of Gatorade — on top of three square meals a day.
“Because his metabolic rate is so high, the guy burns calories just sitting around,” Dufort said.
Foley tested himself on the bench during football games and between shifts during hockey, and he would steal sips from a juice box on the soccer field to avoid being substituted.
Diabetes is an autoimmune disease that weakens the body’s defenses. Foley missed two weeks of preseason football practice last year because of a staph infection on his left (non-throwing) elbow that required surgery. He returned in time for the Cadets’ season opener, though his scar still hasn’t fully healed.
The disease has not hampered Foley on the football field. The All-Classic Suburban Conference quarterback twice earned all-state honors as a kicker for the Cadets, converting 13 of 16 field goals and 116 of 121 extra points in three years.
With a 3.50 grade-point average and 31 ACT score, Foley said he declined several scholarship offers to play Division I soccer or Division III hockey and also turned down a walk-on opportunity to kick at the University of Minnesota.
Foley is one of four kickers competing for Dartmouth’s starting job, which is wide open, according to coach Buddy Teevens. Having watched Foley compete in three sports, Teevens was stunned to learn about his recruit’s disease.
“Foley’s been very forthcoming, and I have a lot more respect for him for the sacrifices he’s made to compete at this level,” Teevens said. “It tells me this is someone who can be successful in any part of his life because that internal drive and discipline.”
There are no full-ride athletic scholarships to Dartmouth. With only 6,000 students and more than 20,000 applicants each year, the college allows only a select few to go Big Green. Foley plans to major in business.
“We’re excited because he’s got the best opportunity to set himself up for the rest of his life,” Paul Schmidt said.
Ready To Cut The Cord
The rest of Foley Schmidt’s life starts this fall, without the familiar rules or comforts of home.
There will be no curfew, but the demand to act responsibly is no less strict. There will be new doctors to consult, and only he can manage the amount of insulin, testing strips and sugary snacks to stock in his dorm.
Foley, the oldest of three sons and the focal point of diligent parenting for so long, is ready to cut the cord.
“I think both of my parents are ready to have me move into the next step of my life. I’m very, very excited,” he said. “Not many kids get the chance to play Division I football at an Ivy League school. I think I’m well prepared. It’s going to be a heck of a run.”
St. Thomas Academy’s Foley Schmidt is off to college, leaving his lifeline behind
By Brian Murphy, Pioneer Press