When a game is on the line, teams don’t always get a second chance. That’s the reason Nick Hurowitz usually gets the basketball in the critical moments for Mount Sinai. The 6-4 senior leads the team in scoring, rebounding and assists and het typically gives the Mustangs the best chance to succeed late.
It’s possible that Hurowitz excels in those pivotal situations because he considers himself to be operating on a second chance. The 17-year-old slipped into a life-threatening condition known as ‘ketoacidosis’ during a CYO doubleheader eight years ago, registering a blood-sugar level of 900, where normal, according to UMass Medical Center pediatric emergency medicine physician Ted Macnow, is in the 70-100 range. But he came out of it unharmed because of the quick work of the St. Charles Hospital emergency room team.
“I see it as I got another opportunity,” the understated swingman said. “There’s a chance I might not have been here, so I try make as much as I can out of things.”
And though he lives what looks like a fairly normal high school existence today, his life was forever changed when he was diagnosed the next day with Type I diabetes, which is a lifelong condition. He has gone from receiving four-to-five daily insulin injections the first couple years — administered by his mother, Nancy, or school nurses — to doing as many daily finger-prick tests and self-administering insulin through a pump connected to a needle implanted in his backside.
“The first thing he asked the doctors the day after the incident was ‘will I still be able to play basketball?’” said his father, Rod Hurowitz. “Nick has been focused on basketball ever since, always doing something to make himself stronger or improve his game. He’s so cool and confident, you wouldn’t even know he deals with this. I don’t know if I could do that.”
Hurowitz is so quiet about his diabetes that his teammates did not even know about it until a recent weekly team dinner, when he eschewed doughnuts and it brought inquiry, Mustangs coach Ryan McNeely said. “I know he has this and to be such an impressive player while treating himself makes it all the more impressive,” McNeely added. “But he never brings it up and it never affects him. He still steps up when everything is on the line.”
Every serious player has their pregame routine. So does Hurowitz, but it also includes checking his blood glucose an hour before tip-off and again 30 minutes later. He said “it gives me enough time to adjust something if I need to.” He said he removes the pump that is usually taped by the small of his back and the tube that runs from it to the implanted needle before games and tapes over the needle to make sure it remains in place during game contact.
“If my number is too high, I know I’m going to wear down more quickly,” he said. “I try to keep it in a place where I won’t have to come out of a game, if possible.”
On that day eight years ago, though, it was panic for Hurowitz and his family in the early going of the second game in Deer Park. In the week leading up to it, he’d been overproducing urine and excreting valuable sugars and electrolytes. It seemed a curiosity but not quite a red flag, Rod Hurowitz said.
“But when the second game was starting, he almost had to push himself off the bench for the start,” the father recalled. “He took some loping strides and I knew he didn’t look right." When he asked out of the game and [during a timeout] raced off the court and into a nearby men’s room, Rod followed. He found Nick splashing water on himself to try to cool his dehydrated and overheating body.
“Dad, I’m bad,” is all Nick said.
His parents whisked him to St. Charles in Port Jefferson — Rod described the panicked drive as “sometimes hitting 100 mph” — where he was stabilized before being transferred to Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.
He’d fallen into “diabetic ketoacidosis,” Macnow said, where his dehydrated body was starved for sugar and began burning fat rapidly enough to turn his blood acidic and make him ill.
“DKA is a serious condition although ERs have become quite good at identifying it and treating it,” Macnow said. “Before and even during treatment, a patient can suffer cerebral edema (swelling of the brain), which is dangerous. A patient also runs a risk of having a heart arrhythmia because of the electrolyte imbalance or could go into shock. But less than one percent of children die from it.”
Macnow added that people diagnosed with Type I diabetes “can and do go on to live long, normal, healthy lives.”
To watch him play — and he has been one of the better players in Suffolk County this season averaging 20.2 points, 10.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists — one would never know.
“It was a heartbreaking situation when it happened,” said Dom Milani, who has been friends with Hurowitz since the beginning of grade school and was on that youth team when Nick was stricken. “But in the years since he’s embraced the condition and grinds through everything. I think it motivates him in some way. He’s like everyone else, only better because he’s also the star on the basketball team.”
The red-headed hoops star even has the student body at Mount Sinai speaking the slogan “Dread The Red” at games.
Though Hurowitz will always have to self-administer insulin — and adjust as his body changes — it won’t interfere with him realizing a dream: playing college basketball. A handful of Division II programs and several Division III programs have expressed interest.
“I think I’ve played my best in big games, against the best teams and against the better players,” he said. “College competition is something I want and something I am looking to take on.”