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Opposing teams aren't their only foe

Sisters don't let diabetes slow them.

The sisters both use insulin pumps . Kelly, above, and Kristin frequently test their blood-sugar levels during games.
The sisters both use insulin pumps . Kelly, above, and Kristin frequently test their blood-sugar levels during games.Read more

Florence softball players Kristin and Kelly Garganio face two opponents every time they step on the field.

The sisters must beat both the other team and cope with juvenile diabetes.

Kristin, an 18-year-old senior third baseman, was afflicted with the disease when she was 10 years old.

Kelly, a 16-year-old sophomore first baseman and reserve pitcher, was the first of Bruce and Linda Garganio's two children to develop it, when she was 3.

One in 400 to 600 children in the United States has Type 1, or juvenile, diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

The illness is an intrusion into the life of anyone who has it because blood-sugar levels must be monitored constantly. Daily dietary habits also must be taken into account.

But the Garganios, who also play field hockey, decided years ago that they weren't going to feel sorry for themselves and lead a sedentary life looking at a clock for the time to take an insulin shot or eat a meal.

They decided instead to become West Jersey Witches, members of a softball travel team. Kristin joined when she was 11, and Kelly at 10. That was a big year for Kelly because she also switched to the insulin pump, which her older sister had done a year earlier.

"Our parents told us that [the pump] would improve our lives, and we were like, 'I don't know if I want to go around with this,' " Kelly Garganio said. "It took us a while to get used to it."

The pump, specifically the MiniMed insulin pump, is the size of a cell phone and can be worn on a belt, in a leg pouch, or inside a bra, according to Medtronic, which produces it. It's like a mechanical pancreas with a window that displays glucose levels while the wearer is eating, sleeping or exercising.

Insulin is pumped from the device through a soft tube the diameter of a strand of spaghetti, which is inserted under the skin - usually the stomach - and held in place by a patch.

Florence coach George Chwastyk said the Garganios occasionally could be seen checking their blood-sugar level in the dugout during a game. He said they inspired him as well as their teammates with their positive attitudes and play.

Kristin is a .400-plus hitter and Kelly a .300-plus batter on a team that is on track to have a special season. The Flashes (14-1), who have exhibited strong pitching, hitting and defense, have sprinted to their best start in years and look forward to participating in the NJSIAA playoffs, which are scheduled to start on Saturday.

A Lafayette University recruit in softball, Kristin said that a realistic goal for the team was a state Group 1 title. Nothing short of the crown will satisfy Kristin, who hopes to be an electrical engineer and who has a 4.7 grade point average.

Described by her father, a Florence councilman, as a quiet, serious and determined person, Kristin is thankful that she and her sister didn't get diabetes as adults. Some family members acquire it as adults, she said.

"It's easier to adjust when you're young because there's less stress, and kids adapt to things," Kristin said. "At first, it may be depressing, but it's not that bad. In the end, it's more of a blessing than a curse because you learn to take care of yourself now.

"It has helped me in life in general not to take things for granted.

"Juvenile diabetes has not inhibited me in any way from playing sports. It is more difficult to play than the average player because you have to check your blood sugar. But I can perform at an optimal level in sports like any other kid."