Joslin Medals Honor Longtime Type 1 Survivors
Dealing with type 1 diabetes for decades—and staying healthy despite it—is no small feat. To celebrate those who have successfully managed diabetes for 50 or more years, the Joslin Diabetes Center, a research center and clinic in Boston, created the 50-Year Medal Program. See some of the recipients at Joslin’s fifth-ever awards ceremony in the summer of 2013.
Thriving with Diabetes
The 50-Year Medal Program began in 1948, when Elliot P. Joslin, M.D., awarded 25-year victory medals to people with type 1 diabetes simply for surviving a disease that, back then, offered a short life expectancy. Since then, 50-year and 75-year medals have been added, with more than 4,000 50-year medals and sixty-five 75-year medals awarded to date.
After noticing these people were not simply alive but flourishing, Joslin researchers launched a medical study of medalists in 2005.
“The main reason we started this study is because you guys lived so long and without kidney and eye disease. Why?” George L. King, M.D., told a gathering of medalists last summer. They had come to Boston to celebrate and to find out what King, Joslin’s research director, and his team have learned—and what it might mean for everyone with diabetes.
Deborah Langosch, 52 years
As a therapist, Deborah Langosch, 56, knows that informed patients are empowered patients. She asks lots of questions of her doctors, and if they aren’t comfortable with that, she moves on. “When I get enough information, the challenges become less and the collaboration better,” she says. “I think of diabetes as something that I have to partner with—a partnership with both the illness and with the medical profession.”
Deborah, who lives in New York City, also has a strong partnership with her husband, Mark. She gives him loads of credit for her radiant health. “Mark’s been such a big part of my coping with this challenging illness,” she says. This disease has its rhythms, Deborah notes, and you have to learn what they are and how they shift. “Sometimes marriages get in trouble when you take them for granted,” she says. “When you take your illness for granted, it raises its head. It takes work and vigilance, but the payoff is worth it.
“Doctors say you can lead a normal life with diabetes, but that’s not true,” she adds. “You have to think about exercise, stress, and every bit of food you put in your mouth. But it’s not necessarily a disease that’s filled with terror and horror all the time. We remain hopeful about the terrific research that sustains us and is a privilege to be part of,” Deborah says. “Many of us can live with this a long time—with healthy, happy, productive lives.”
Louise Jesserer, 59 years
“I was probably 18 before I could say the word ‘diabetes’ without crying—I thought I’d done something terribly wrong to have to take an injection every day,” says Louise Jesserer, who was diagnosed in 1955 at age 7. “I made a decision to become friends with this disease and not let my life be ruled by it, not let it prevent me from doing what I want to do.” She credits that attitude and her husband, Dale LaDue, pictured with her, for keeping her strong.
Carol Haynes, 60 years
Carol Haynes, 71, who’s been a vegetarian for 43 years, says that when she gave up meat, her health really started to improve. “For the past five years, I’ve eaten no dairy and nothing that walks, crawls, flies, or swims.” She eats gluten-free, avoids processed foods, and loves brown rice and sweet potatoes. “I go easy on the nightshade vegetables—tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, eggplant,” in part because she also has rheumatoid arthritis. Sticking to a strict diet requires willingness and being positive, she says. “I’m determined. If I do get down, I don’t stay there.”
Carol, who has had type 1 diabetes for 60 years, stays active. She plays kickball with her grandkids—10 under the age of 15—goes to the gym, takes aerobics classes, and walks on the beach near her Florida home. “We expect our cars to last 10 years. But we want our bodies to last 90 years or more, and that won’t happen if we don’t take care of them,” she says. “I don’t know if I’d still be here if it wasn’t for Charles,” her husband of 34 years. “I’d be swimming upstream without his support.”
Steven & Phillip Lerner, “The Century Brothers”
Steve Lerner, 68, left, has had type 1 diabetes for 54 years; his brother Phil Lerner, 65, for 45 years. The secret of their good health is “doing what we’re supposed to do,” says Phil. “You really have to obey the rules or you’ll pay the price.”
Steve adds: “Each day we learn more. You can’t give up! Keep plugging.” And Phil concludes, “Steve showed me you could have diabetes and still lead a normal life. If I can do it, you can do it.”
C. Peter Wyllie, 63 years
When C. Peter Wyllie, 78, was diagnosed at age 15, he thought he might live until 40, “which seemed a long way off,” he recalls. “I decided I’d prove them wrong. So far, so good!” His goal is to “keep life simple.” He travels with his wife, stays physically active, and enjoys walking his two big dogs and gardening his land on the Oconee River in Watkinsville, Georgia.
“There’s a lot you can’t control, no matter how good a manager you are. There are surprises every day,” Peter says. Stress really raises his blood sugar. When he feels it coming on, he practices meditation to lower his pulse rate. “When you don’t know why something happened, you don’t know what to do about it. But the longer you have diabetes, the less it happens.” Peter is especially grateful for his insulin pump. “It’s made everything easier—I don’t have to live such a rigid life.”
Kathryn Ham, 76 years
Kathryn Ham of Brookline, Massachusetts, left, who was diagnosed in 1937, named her daughter, Joslin, right, in gratitude to the center. “Balance, control, moderation in all things, nutrition, exercise—and discipline, discipline, discipline—are necessary components of living with diabetes,” Kathryn says.
Spencer M. Wallace Jr., 83 years
Spencer M. Wallace Jr. of Fayetteville, New York, middle, was awarded Joslin’s very first 80-year medal. He was diagnosed in 1931 at age 8. Spencer came to Boston with his son, Daniel, and wife, Margaret. Diabetes hasn’t slowed him down—he skipped a golf tournament to attend. “They’ve mentioned a 100-year medal,” he says. “I hope diabetes is cured soon so nobody has to worry about medals.”