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Player’s Death Sheds Light On Diabetes, A Silent Killer

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Jessica Kartalija joined the Eyewitness News team during the summer of...
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BALTIMORE (WJZ) — When former Ravens tackle Orlando Brown died suddenly of diabetes, everyone was stunned. Brown’s best friend Wally Williams tells Jessica Kartalija Brown never knew he had the disease. He’s convinced the giant of a man known as Zeus would be alive today…if he had only known.

On the football field, Ravens defensive tackle Orlando Brown could take the hits and push back harder. But it was the hit he never saw coming that brought him down.

Brown died suddenly last September at his Inner Harbor home at just 40 years old. At first, no one knew why.

For 10 days, what killed this giant of a man remained a mystery. An investigation was launched and finally the surprising ruling from the medical examiner: Orlando Brown had died of diabetes.

“There’s a big sense of emptiness that’s just left by him not being around,” said Brown’s best friend and former teammate Wally Williams.

Williams is still reeling from the news.

“I’m still shocked,” he said. “It was just the last person that I expected to hear something like that from. I’m still nowhere near to being over him not being here with us right now.”

Williams is convinced the friend he knew since college never suspected he had diabetes.

“I know for a fact that was something he thought was never going to be a problem and if he knew, he was going to take care of it,” Williams said.

Diabetes is a treatable disease if caught in time. But the tricky part is knowing you even have it. It’s estimated some seven million Americans are walking around with diabetes and they have no clue.

“It just shows that you have to go the extra mile to take care of yourself. Externally, you’re one way but you have to take care of yourself internally,” Williams said.

A simple blood glucose test will tell if you have the disease but many people never get it. By the time you notice symptoms, you’ve had it for some time.

“It’s often called the silent killer because the symptoms can often be confused with something typical,” said Kathy Rogers, American Diabetes Association.

“This disease is so sneaky. It can come and hit you before you know it. It’s like, bam! It’s here,” said diabetic Debbie Holden.

Like Brown, 57-year-old Holden never suspected she had diabetes but found out with a routine medical test.

“I was one of the lucky ones to still be alive ’cause the same thing that happened to him could very well have happened to me,” Holden said.

“It’s a problem with African-American men: that we don’t go to the doctor because we feel that we can just be tough,” Williams said. “You’re coached that way. You’re brought up that way. As a matter of fact, every guy in the NFL has that same feeling.”

Williams is heartbroken, knowing Brown would have successfully dealt with diabetes like he did everything in his life—if he only knew.

“That was the last conversation I had with him, you know, to take care of yourself,” Williams said.

It’s a sad lesson from a life too short. Whether it’s diabetes or another illness with hidden symptoms, get checked out before it’s too late.

“You only get one shot at life and you want to make sure you go about it the right way,” Williams said.

You can find out whether you’re at risk for diabetes by clicking here.

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