- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 11, 2007

At least 20 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. The disease is the sixth-leading cause of death in the country, killing more than 200,000 people each year.

Former Dallas Cowboys running back Ron Springs fits the former category and not the latter thanks to a kidney transplant he received from ex-teammate Everson Walls on Feb. 28. Springs was diagnosed at 34 years old but didn’t seek treatment for 10 years. As a result, he had his lower right leg amputated in 2005 and experienced kidney failure.

Saying he feels “like I’ve got a new battery,” Springs has plunged into a new public awareness campaign, stateofdiabetes.com, along with his son, Shawn, a cornerback for the Washington Redskins.

“I’m excited about spreading the word about how to avoid the complications of type 2 diabetes,” said Shawn Springs, who was considering donating one of his kidneys and ending his 10-year NFL career before Walls came forward. “My father was on the waiting list for a transplant for three years. Every time we got close to having a donor, complications from his type 2 diabetes would arise. Every time, it was like another letdown. It didn’t look good until Everson Walls came to the rescue.”

Nearly 60 percent of Type 2 diabetics (who account for 95 percent of all diabetics) suffer serious complications like kidney failure, amputation, blindness and heart disease. Treatment of such traumas cost the country $23 billion last year, according to a new report of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.

“The report’s findings should serve as a wakeup call about the prevalence and cost of diabetes complications,” said Willard Manning, a University of Chicago health studies professor.

Said Ron Springs: “I was so naive. I didn’t believe it could happen to an NFL player who had been in shape all his life. I didn’t feel bad. I kept exercising. I thought my blood sugar was under control. From my neglect, I suffered some of the complications that three out of five people with type 2 diabetes suffer. Don’t ignore your diabetes. If you don’t take care of your diabetes, your diabetes will take care of you.”

Walls, a rookie in 1981 when he became friends with third-year player Ron Springs, shocked his old friend by offering to take care of him. Springs said that in the six weeks since the transplant he is more alert, feels stronger, has more energy and is walking again.

“Everson was one of my childhood heroes and one of the reasons I wear No. 24,” Shawn Springs said. “How about that, huh?”

As far his own health is concerned, Shawn Springs said he’s fully recovered from the sports hernia, pulled hamstring and broken shoulder that limited him to eight games last season. Having just turned 32, he’s ready to make up for a lost 2006 season.

“I’m just worried about getting myself in shape,” Springs said. “You have to be thankful for your health.”

Springs doesn’t see the recent additions of veteran starting cornerbacks Fred Smoot and David Macklin as an indication the Redskins plan to part with him and his $7.35 million salary cap number.

“I expect to be in Washington this season,” he said. “I’ll be in shape and ready to go.”

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