MEET STATE TROOPER REINALDO CRUZ JR.
There is no doubt that Reinaldo Cruz is a hero. A proud member of the New Jersey State Police, Reinaldo stepped into his uniform 9 years ago. As a Trooper, Reinaldo is able to live out his dream—serve and better his community. He’s saved many lives, helped many people—all without seeking any reward or recognition for himself.
Trooper Cruz is also a hero in the T1D community. Diagnosed with T1D just four year ago, Reinaldo now views his diagnosis as a blessing, not a hindrance. Serving as a Trooper with T1D, Reinaldo is positioned to advocate for people with diabetes and raise awareness. He works hard to educate his fellow troopers and meet with youth across the state to share his story. Did we mention that Reinaldo has also saved the life of several people suffering from hypoglycemia?
In fact, Trooper Cruz’s name might be familiar to you. This past summer, Reinaldo made the news when he saved the life of Dennis Huntley, a man experiencing low blood sugar while on the road. We sat down with Reinaldo to learn more about his journey with T1D, hear how he saved Dennis Huntley’s life and find out what a cure means to him.
Tell us about yourself and your connection to T1D
The start of my journey
After graduating college, I started teaching in Elizabeth. During that time, I began to work on my Master’s in Education Administration. I had aspirations of becoming a principal and running my own school someday, to implement different youth initiatives involving the school and community outreach. In 2007, a friend of mine, who is a New Jersey State Trooper and aware of my involvement with youth and community outreach, introduced me to the idea of applying to become a New Jersey State Trooper.
Being part of the State Police would allow me to continue to implement my initiatives throughout the state, especially since there are several specialty units that focus on outreach. My goal was to make a positive impact in the lives of others—especially with the youth throughout the state—and I knew there was no better platform. Fortunately for me, after expressing an interest, the application process opened up a few months later. I finally received the call in 2008 to join the State Police. I entered the Academy in January 2009; I graduated six months later in June.
A diagnosis that changed everything
Each year we must complete a fitness and physical exam. Four years ago, after my routine exam, I was hit with the diagnosis that I have type 1 diabetes (T1D). I found the initial news to be devastating, especially since I know people who had T1D and passed on. All I could think about is that here I am, a Trooper, the provider for the family, a husband and father, and I let my family down! I felt defeated! With so many questions, I began to be an open book, eager to learn as much as possible about the disease.
Coming back even stronger
Although I am not the first, nor will I be the last Trooper to have T1D, it’s something that has been beneficial. Since my diagnosis many of my colleagues are much more educated on the symptoms of T1D and how to assist someone who has T1D; they even help me injecting insulin into my arm in-between meals while I have my uniform on.
Walk us through the day you saved Dennis Huntley’s life.
The call for help
On July 26, 2017, I came into work a few hours early to complete reports. While there, we received a call from dispatch about a motorist who pulled over on the Turnpike and was experiencing low blood sugar [hypoglycemia]. Since I was not in uniform, I asked the sergeant if I could assist. Two other Troopers and I soon answered the call to tend to the driver, later identified as Mr. Dennis Huntley. Once we arrived on scene, I identified myself and advised Mr. Huntley that I have type 1 diabetes; later instructing him what I was going to do.
On the scene
Despite initial reports stating Mr. Huntley’s sugar level being “47,” I am certain it was much lower, considering approximately 15 minutes passed before his initial call to 911, the fact he was shaking profusely and was somewhat incoherent. I applied glucose gel into the side of his mouth, followed by some of the candy I usually carry with me. After a few minutes, I tested his sugar level with his glucose meter, which provided a reading of “57.” Once Mr. Huntley was responsive and able to carry a conversation, he was escorted to the service area, where we gave him food. He later drove home on his own accord, once he was at a “normal” level for his standards.
A blessing in disguise
Since being diagnosed with T1D, despite having my difficult moments, I still view it as a blessing in disguise. I was able to apply my knowledge on three different occasions while at work, as civilians experienced hypoglycemia. It’s a blessing, when you’re able to save someone’s life! I also continuously have the opportunity to meet and speak with youth who have T1D, advising them they too can accomplish their goals despite their obstacle.
What does a cure mean to you?
A cure for type 1 diabetes would mean a lot to me! As a fourth generation diabetic, I have witnessed the struggle in my family. Once recognized as a “silent killer,” there are a lot of things I have to focus on in my personal life: While spending time with my boys, is my pump going to be pulled out? While in uniform, is the bulletproof vest going to affect my pump? What part of my body do I attach the pump to, to ensure I’m not affected, food intake during shift work, etc.
Until then, I will continue to remain optimistic and learn from my peers who also have T1D, my doctors and others, and continue to be an advocate in my community.