THE first thing Ben Coker said to his mum when he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes as a teenager was “mum, will I still be able to play football on Saturday?”

Ben was 15 at the time and like many youngsters his age, football dominated his life- as it does today. So the news that he had a potentially life-threatening condition came as a complete shock to say the least. Although looking back now, he remembers, there were symptoms that all was not right.

These symptoms came to light after he was knocked unconscious for a few seconds on the football field at school.

Within days Ben, then 15, and living in Royston, Hertfordshire, developed an almost unquenchable thirst and a need to urinate more often than normal.

Ben is now a successful professional footballer who plays left back for the Blues after joining the club in the summer of 2013. He said: “Hats off to my mum, she thought something was up and she took me to the doctors for tests.

“It was a shock to the system when they told me I had diabetes.

At first I thought it would be the end of me playing football. At the time football was my life.

“I remember asking my mum “will I still be able to play on Saturday? That was the first thing that came into my mind but she reassured me that it would be OK.”

From that day Ben, with support from his family and healthcare workers, had to inject himself daily with insulin and painstakingly manage what he eats in order to maintain his sugar levels.

Type 1 diabetes affects around 350,000 people in the UK. It is an auto-immune condition where the body mistakenly attacks the cells in the pancreas, damaging or destroying them.

As a result, the body produces little or no insulin, the hormone that moves glucose (sugar) from the blood into cells. Symptoms include tiredness, the need to urinate more and thirst because the kidneys are forced to work overtime and if they cannot keep up, excess sugar is excreted in urine, triggering thirst. While the cause is unclear, one theory is that it can be triggered by a viral infection or due to genetics.

Type 1 is controlled by insulin injections, usually administered at least twice a day.

More recently there is a newer alternative to manual injections - an insulin pump, a wearable device no bigger than a smartphone, which Ben, who also played for Colchester United from 2010-13 nowwears to help him control his insulin levels.

The former builder shared the ups and downs of his diabetic journey when he spent time at the paediatric diabetes clinic at Southend Hospital to chat to youngsters in the same boat. He admitted he takes the fact he is a role model to scores of youngsters extremely seriously.

“I know that when I was 15 and diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes I would have loved to have had someone involved in football to talk to and to tell me about their experiences and to give me so reassurances so visiting the hospital and speaking to the children and their parents was a way for me to give something back and do something positive,”

said Ben.

Although there is no current cure for diabetes, researchers have made massive leaps towards one and Ben hopes soon things will be different for sufferers: “I assistant from Southend Hospital organised the visit by Ben. Joshua, who himself has Type 1 diabetes after being diagnosed at age seven, said: “I know there are lots of role models, such as Ben, out there who have not let diabetes affect their lives and so it was fantastic to have him come to the clinic and talk about his experience.”

Among those who Ben met during his visit was seven-yearold Ethan Miller from Southend.

Ethan attends the paediatric diabetes clinic once every three months.

The youngster was thrilled to see Ben attend the clinic and chat about their shared condition, football and everything else in between.

The pair had an immediate bond and at times, onlookers said, it was almost as if they were speaking their own language and using their own shorthand that only diabetics would understand.

Ethan’s mum, Kirstie Miller, said that meeting and talking to people like Ben, who had not let diabetes hold them back or define them, was a powerful a nd influential role model for h er, but most importantly her son.

“It’s been really helpful as Ethan’s really been struggling quite a lot with his diabetes lately and he’s been quite worried so meeting Ben is a real boost for him,” she said.

“He’s quite ambitious in himself as well so meeting Ben in person and knowing all he has achieved is definitely a positive influence for him.”

The Miller family hope to make it to Roots Hall to see Ben in action on pitch sometime this season, something that thanks to this visit at Southend Hospital, will hold even greater meaning.