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Veteran serving as JDRF honorary chairperson

Tuesday, February 28, 2012 - 11:33 pm

As part of learning about his Type 1 diabetes more than a decade ago, Brent Henley had to accept that the disease had just happened and that he had done nothing wrong.

Now the veteran Komets defenseman is using the things he has learned in dealing with diabetes to help area youth who have the condition. Henley hosts JDRF families at each Komets home game and then meets with them afterward to discuss things he and the youngster may be going through.

``It's basically a way for me to reach out and talk to kids who are like me and let them know that you can be an athlete, you can be a performer, you can do whatever you want,'' Henley said. ``It's nice to talk to them and let them know that I've gone through what they are going through and have a little one-on-one time with them. Usually they have questions that their doctor or their family can't really help them with, so even if it's just one little thing it's nice to be able to talk to them about that.''

Henley is also going to serve as the honorary chairperson for the 2012 Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation's Walk to Cure Diabetes on May 5 at Franke Park. He's hoping to participate that day, but it depends on the Komets' playoff schedule. Henley will also be the keynote speaker at the event's kickoff luncheon at Sycamore Hills Golf Club on March 7.

``I hear all the time how exciting the Komets are and what a great resource they are for the community so the kids are very, very well-aware of the Komets and who Brent is specifically,'' said Beth Ernsberger, manager for the JDRF's northern Indiana branch office. ``He's a go-getter, and we really like him a lot.''

Henley, 31, was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic at age 20, meaning he needs insulin injections after every meal. To many people, a diabetes diagnosis is something to fear, but Henley wants to prove that it should not be a hindrance if handled properly. If he can play pro hockey, kids can still dream of doing anything they choose. It all depends on how careful they are at taking care of themselves.

``I found out a little later than most of these kids, but I can relate,'' Henley said. ``We have the same issues, concerns, that kind of thing. It's how you deal with problems that arise from being diabetic. There are situations from school to athletics to everyday life that I might be able to shed a little bit different light on because I've experienced them as well.''

Because he was older, Henley had to learn by asking questions of teammates and others about how to deal with diabetes as an athlete. He knew of former Philadelphia Flyer Bobby Clarke who played with diabetes, but there weren't many contemporary role models for him to emulate.

``It's just more of a comfort level and to let them know that I'm out there and to know that they are out there,'' Henley said. ``Once in a while there's a tip I can give on how to deal with a situation, but it's not so much teaching them as letting them know that there are other people like them so there's no reason to feel segregated or out there on an island. It's more about having a dialogue and a conversation and making them feel comfortable. It's bonding that we're all using insulin.''

He also learns from the discussions. Because he cannot wear an insulin pump as a professional athlete, Henley enjoys talking to the kids and their families about the benefits they provide. Someday, after he retires, he'll likely use a pump, he said.

``It's also nice to meet the families because sometimes people tend to forget it's not just the kids who have to deal with it, it's the parents and the siblings, too,'' Henley said. ``It's nice to get a chance to meet them and talk to them and speak to other adults who understand the terms and the challenges.''