Designing his future

From the age of 12, James Telfer knew what it would take to live well with diabetes. The 61-year-old London artist received a medal of his own design given to St. Joseph’s patients who reach 50 years living with insulin-dependent diabetes.
James Telfer
Every year, recipients of St. Joseph’s Diabetes Half Century Awards receive a special medal designed by diabetes patient James Telfer. In 2020, James received the medal he created after reaching 50 years of living with diabetes.

When James Telfer was asked several years ago by his endocrinologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital for a loan of his creative design talents, he was happy to oblige. The request was for a special medal to be presented each year to patients with insulin-dependent diabetes who reach 50 years since their diagnosis.

As a long-time diabetes patient himself, James, a London design artist, understood how momentous it would be to reach half a century living with the condition, and how meaningful the medal would be to patients reaching the milestone.

James designed the medal, at the centre of which is the Flame of Hope – an eternal flame that honours Sir Frederick Banting's discovery of insulin. The medal has since been given out annually at St. Joseph’s Diabetes Half Century Awards.

In 2020, James was on the receiving end of the medal he crafted. He was among nine recipients of the Diabetes Half Century Awards after reaching the 50-year mark of living well with diabetes. Presented by St. Joseph’s and Novo Nordisk Canada Inc., the awards honour individuals for their personal commitment and diligence in looking after their health, and for acting as a role model to all those living with diabetes.

James, 61, was 12 when he was diagnosed. Immediately, his mother lay down the law and set the tone for how he would live the rest of his life. He was taught how to look after himself and what it would take to ensure a long, fulfilling future. As a result, he never felt limited in what he could do.

“Perseverance, planning and control – that was the way to go. It was drilled into me from the beginning.”

Summers at a camp for children with diabetes, where James would go on to become a counsellor, were also instrumental in shaping his approach to life with diabetes.  A “mystical” place that not only immersed him in wilderness adventures, camp was also where “there was no bellyaching” about having diabetes and where he learned that knowledge was power when it came to managing his condition.

James would go on to become a design artist with a penchant for interior, event, industrial and jewelry design, an entrepreneur, and a fearless traveller to far-flung corners of the globe where he collects works of art for his London home décor store, called Splash. He equates being a successful artist to being successful at managing diabetes.

To do what I do you have to be awake and aware all the time. It’s the same with diabetes.

As a patient of Dr. Irene Hramiak since the early 1980s, James has participated in several key diabetes trials over the years that have helped to define care for people with type 1 diabetes. When asked to design the Diabetes Half Century Award medal, he was excited. “It was something else I could contribute.”

To earn the medal himself this year means James too is officially a role model for others. And that, he says, “is a very cool thing.”

This story appeared in Issue 03 of My St. Joseph's. View more inspiring stories from the magazine.

Celebrating diabetes warriors

Over the past 17 years, nearly 170 patients have received St. Joseph’s Diabetes Half Century Awards, which is traditionally presented at a ceremony during Diabetes Awareness Month in November. Patients with insulin-dependent diabetes who reach 50 years since their diagnosis are nominated by their endocrinologist.  These individuals are an inspiration to others living with the condition and symbolize what can be achieved with perseverance, good management, and advances in care and education.  This year, nine patients are being honoured virtually with a video salute to their remarkable achievement of joining the diabetes half century club.  

Congratulations from the makers of insulin

St. Joseph’s industry partners in presenting the annual Diabetes Half Century Awards are Novo Nordisk, Sanofi Canada and Eli Lilly Canada, all manufacturers of insulin. These industry partners provide the recipients with a gift and celebrate their success with them. Below are congratulatory messages for this year’s recipients:

Banting print in frame
Novo Nordisk provides each Diabetes Half Century Award recipient with a framed print of London’s Banting House

Novo Nordisk

On behalf of Novo Nordisk, I congratulate you on 50 years of living well with diabetes. This is a significant milestone to be recognized and a wonderful example to the diabetes community of how proper management and supportive care can improve health outcomes. I wish you all the best.

Béatrice Clerc, President, Novo Nordisk Canada Inc. 


Sanofi Canada funds a medal that is given to each recipient of St. Joseph’s Diabetes Half Century Awards. The medal was designed by diabetes patient James Telfer, who is a recipient this year.

Sanofi Canada

As a proud supporter of the Diabetes Half Century Awards at St. Joseph’s Health Care London for many years, we offer you congratulations on behalf of everyone at Sanofi Canada as you celebrate the significant achievement of having lived with diabetes for 50 years or more! 

At Sanofi, we have seen medical science evolve over the years to provide safer, more effective treatments and better quality of life for people with diabetes. But science and innovation are only part of the picture. Success would not be possible without expert caregivers, supportive families and – most important of all – determined people like you who manage their condition every day with discipline and courage.

Please accept our best wishes for good health in times ahead. You’re an inspiration to our teams who work on behalf of people with diabetes. Thank you for showing us what is possible!

Nancy Savage
Therapeutic Area Representative (Diabetes)

Eli Lilly Canada

Eli Lilly Medal Award
On behalf of Eli Lilly Canada, the Lilly Diabetes Journey Award recognizing long lives lived with diabetes is provided to each recipient of St. Joseph’s Diabetes Half Century Awards.

It is such an honour for us to commemorate this special milestone. In managing your diabetes for more than 50 years, Eli Lilly is pleased to present you with the Journey Award.  Journey Award recipients demonstrate that learning how to manage their diabetes care can lead to a long and successful diabetes journey. They also inspire others to believe they can do it, too!

At Lilly, we recognize that every person with type 1 diabetes is on a unique and challenging lifelong journey. But you’re not alone—and while we work hard to equip people with the resources they need to overcome challenges, we’re also here to celebrate the successes.


Francois Gilbert, Diabetes Business Unit Lead, Canada

View the virtual Diabetes Half Century Awards

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