05/14/2012 05:00 EDT | Updated 07/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Blue Jays starter Morrow and singer Canyon urge diabetic kids to chase dreams

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - When Blue Jays starting pitcher Brandon Morrow threw a brilliant three-hit complete game against the Los Angeles Angels on May 3, earning his second career shutout, he couldn't just focus on searing fastballs and wipeout sliders.

The 27-year-old right-hander is a Type I diabetic who has risen to play with the best in the game despite a constant need to balance and monitor his blood sugar levels. Letting diabetic kids know that their dreams are possible is one of Morrow's personal missions.

His Twitter social media account describes him as a diabetic first and a major league pitcher second.

"In my life, that's what I need to take care of because if I don't take care of the diabetes first, I'm not going to be pitching for very long," Morrow said from Oakland last week a day before beating the Athletics to win his fourth straight start.

He wears a small beeper-sized pump when he's not on the mound that releases insulin into a port on his abdomen so his body can process food. Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease that mysteriously stops the pancreas from producing insulin, the hormone that draws energy from foods. It affects more than 300,000 people in Canada and is a leading cause of kidney failure, adult blindness, stroke, amputations, heart disease and nerve damage.

Morrow says baseball's meticulous, almost Ground Hog Day-like routines help him keep his health in check as he pricks fingers on his left hand several times a day to test his blood sugars.

"I have all these reference points of when I check: after batting practice, before the game, after the game," he said. "And diabetes forced me to be more regimented in my workouts."

On game days, Morrow is careful to check his blood sugars after throwing the first and second innings, and may have to adjust with some Gatorade, a bit of an energy bar or some insulin the deeper he pitches into a game. Losing the right balance can lead to a woozy, almost out of body experience or worse.

"I think the biggest thing is just to keep a positive outlook on it and to know that when you stay on top of it ... that's what allows you to not let it affect you."

It's a hopeful, no-limits message that is also the focus of a five-day national music tour starting Monday in St. John's with headliner George Canyon, the country music singer, actor and Type I diabetic who hails from Nova Scotia.

The free event is a first come, first served blend of music and inspiring words for families and kids living with the disease. Other stops over the next week are in Barrie, Ont., Winnipeg, Edmonton and Prince George, B.C.

Tickets can be reserved at

Each night features talks with "diabetes heroes" such as Jordan DePape of the WHL's Kamloops Blazers, and Lindsey Carswell, a university student who logged her blood glucose tests for months for Transport Canada as she worked toward a recreational pilot's licence.

Canyon, who has appeared in CBC-TV's "Heartland" and Showcase's "Trailer Park Boys," is now 41 and has been living with diabetes since he was 14.

The married father of two had no one to look up to as a diabetic role model when he was a teen, he recalled. He vowed to offer that guidance and encouragement to others, he said from his ranch outside Calgary.

Canyon is optimistic that with improvements in diabetic technology, the sky's the limit for kids growing up today.

"I just want them to know that if I can control my disease and live my dreams, they for certain can do anything they want."

That is music to the ears of Dana Greenberg, a Type I diabetic who remembers feeling very much alone when she was diagnosed at the age of seven.

"I was just told you can't do things, you shouldn't think about becoming a brain surgeon, you shouldn't think about flying a plane," she said from Thornhill, Ont. "And I was told I shouldn't have children."

Greenberg, now 47, was just 13 when she abandoned dreams of brain surgery but she went on to become a trained economist, a professional fundraiser and the mother of three children who are her proudest redemption.

Her daughter, 12-year-old Marley, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes at the age of eight. Marley says role models like Canyon and Morrow are vital.

"It's one thing when people tell you diabetes can't stop you, you can do anything you want. But it's completely different seeing people in front of you who have diabetes who've achieved their dreams," she said.

"It's proof that you can do it, you can be like them. You can do whatever you want to, and it's really inspiring."