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Henley on horizon?

The Komets are in negotiations to sign defenseman Brent Henley, a physical defenseman who skated 83 games with them between 2006 and 2008, totaling 10 assists and 335 penalty minutes. Henley, 31, who is 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, sat out last season with a knee injury and skated one game with Utah of the ECHL this season.

He is an interesting guy. Here's a story I did on him in 2007:

Brent Henley is a 6-foot-7 tough guy who strikes fear into opponents, but the Fort Wayne Komets defenseman isn't invulnerable.

Every day, he draws blood, injects himself with insulin, takes corticosteroids and tries to make sure his immune system isn't overwhelmed.

Henley, 27, is playing professional hockey and living his dream, albeit carefully, and he wants youngsters or parents sitting in the stands who might be dealing with similar afflictions to realize their aspirations, too.

"I'm not a parent myself, so maybe I have a different mentality, but I've met these kids and they want to play and want to be normal," Henley said. "And you have to watch them, but you can't restrain them. It's the same thing I do every day."

Henley, who lives with Type 1 diabetes and Addison's disease, says athletic competition isn't for all kids with those ailments, because the restrictions may be too much, but "you have to find the balance."

Henley found out he had Addison's disease when he was 19 and playing junior hockey. His adrenal glands create hormones at an insufficient level, and that results in symptoms that include weight loss, weakness and fatigue.

One year after receiving that diagnosis, Henley found out he also had diabetes. His body doesn't produce enough insulin, the hormone that converts sugar and other food into energy, and that can lead to health problems including fatigue, heart disease and blindness.

"It wiped out my last two years of junior (hockey), and that's why I didn't get (an NHL) contract then," said Henley, a native of Coquitlam, British Columbia. "I probably would have got one just by virtue of my size. But because I missed two halves of years, it really set me back."

Henley eventually signed three NHL contracts, two with Edmonton and one with Pittsburgh, and he has carved out a niche in the minors as a stay-at-home defenseman and enforcer.

But it hasn't been easy.

To keep Addison's disease under control, Henley must take medications. Because of the diabetes, he must check his glucose levels by pricking his arm and testing his blood at least five times a day. If his glucose level is too high, he has to inject himself with insulin. If it's too low, he has to eat or drink the proper foods.

Because he's an athlete, keeping his blood-sugar levels where he wants can be challenging. If he plays more than expected, such as when a game goes into overtime, it could throw his body out of whack, and that could mean an urgent need for food or insulin.

"I've gotten good enough that if I know what level I'm at going into (a game), I know what I have to do to adjust. It's very rare that I have to adjust during games because after playing over 500 of them, I've learned," Henley said.

But the 250-pound Henley has received some funny looks, not just because he's gone over 200 penalty minutes five times and beaten the pulp out of many opponents.

"Some guys figure it out pretty quick when I pull a needle out at meals or draw blood before the game," Henley said. "Most guys have seen (a diabetic) before or know somebody, had a childhood friend maybe, but every once in a while you get a reaction - the eyes go wide and they think you're doing something really bad."

Hockey players are expected to gut it out through pain and fatigue on the ice, and they often party hard off of it, but Henley has to be more cautious than most. He's been hospitalized a couple of times when he didn't take it easy.

"When I get run-down, I can't just push through it. I have to make sure I sleep a little bit more. I have to really monitor my blood sugar or I'll start getting sick," Henley said. "I take more vitamins than the normal person would. And it's really just being cognizant of how I feel and realizing, if I stay up that extra hour that night, then that's going to make me feel worse the next day and I'll have that cumulative effect."

Henley, who had four assists and 204 penalty minutes in 43 games last season with the Komets, has played only one game this season after offseason knee surgery. He's hoping to be back on the ice in the next couple of weeks.

Knowing that his ailments could rob him of things later in life - poor circulation could mean the amputation of limbs, common with diabetes - Henley is eager to play again and continue living his dream. If he's an inspiration to others, that would be all the better.

"I could think of (my illnesses) like weaknesses but I don't," he said. "I just think of it as part of my day."


Addison's disease

Addison's disease results in the adrenal glands producing insufficient amounts of certain hormones. It can occur at any age but is most common in those between 30 and 50. Symptoms include muscle weakness, fatigue, weight loss, decreased appetite, darkening of skin, low blood pressure, salt craving, low blood sugar, nausea, irritability, depression.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults. The body does not produce insulin, which is needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy, because the immune system attacks and destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Symptoms include increased thirst, frequent urination, extreme hunger, weight loss, fatigue, blurred vision.

- Source: Mayo Clinic

Justin A. Cohn, pro sports coordinator for The Journal Gazette, has been covering the Fort Wayne Komets since 1997. His reporting includes game stories from home and away, features about the players and personalities associated with the Komets, plus coverage of issues affecting hockey at all levels. A native of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Cohn graduated from Emory University in Atlanta. He can be reached at 260-461-8429 or by email at