A life changing journey
Larry Fulton recalls the moment doctors told him that he would likely not live past the age of 40. He was only 18-years-old at the time and had just been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
“Back then, the life expectancy for people living with diabetes was only around 20 years or so,” recalls Larry, who was diagnosed in the early 1970s. “It was scary to hear that as a young man. It changed my life completely.”
Larry, now 70, has far outlived his initial grim prognosis and continues to live a full life. He is among this year’s recipients of the Diabetes Half Century Awards presented annually by St. Joseph’s Health Care London and Novo Nordisk Canada Inc. to patients with insulin-dependent diabetes who reach 50 or more years since their diagnosis.
The patients, who are nominated by their endocrinologist, are honoured for their personal commitment and diligence in looking after their health, and for acting as a role model to all those living with the condition. Each recipient receives a print of London’s Banting House and a special medal to commemorate their achievement.
This year’s awards ceremony was the first in-person event since the pandemic and coincides with the 50 anniversary of St. Joseph’s Diabetes Education Centre (DEC), which was one of the first in Canada and a major milestone in the evolution of diabetes care in London. It was established by two visionary physicians – Dr. Wilson Rodger and Dr. Gerald Tevaarwerk – who recognized that medical treatment wasn’t enough to manage diabetes. Patients needed to be partners in their care and education to help them to take charge of their health.
The DEC would grow quickly and evolve as advances revolutionized the care journey and quality of life for patients, Today, the DEC sees about 8,400 patient visits annually and boasts a dedicated team of 13 certified diabetes educators (seven nurses, five dietitians and one pharmacist), as well as support staff. The continuous advent and growth of diabetes technologies – insulin pumps, glucose meters and sensors – as well as new therapies and treatments mean learning remains a constant for diabetes educators and the people they serve.
“I feel grateful, “he says. “I’m enjoying my time with my children and grandchildren. It’s a joy to see them grow up – everyday has been a gift.” - Larry Fulton, who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 50 years.
After graduating from high school, Larry was working in a factory when he knew something was wrong.
“I spent the entire day going back and forth to the restroom,” he says. “I was exhausted and ended up in the hospital for three weeks. While in hospital, I was diagnosed with diabetes.”
At the time of Larry’s diagnosis, treatment for diabetes looked much different than it does today. In the early years, he remembers practicing insulin injections on oranges until he felt comfortable giving them to himself. He also relied on urine testing to monitor his glucose levels as glucose meters, which were more convenient and accurate, were not yet available.
“I remember wanting to have a hamburger with all the fixings so bad,” laughs Larry. “There were a lot of restrictions I had to get used to.”
The support Larry would receive from both friends and family would prove instrumental in learning how to manage his diabetes over the years. His father also lived with type 1 diabetes having been diagnosed the year after insulin was first discovered. Prior to the discovery of insulin in 1921, diabetes was a fatal disease.
“I grew up with conversations about diabetes in my home,” says Larry. “I remember the huge insulin needle my dad used and how he would it sharpen himself at home. My father was fortunate to have lived with diabetes for 60 years.”
Larry’s mother, who was a cook in a hospital, was also encouraging – making special desserts that he could eat.
“I always appreciated her efforts, but some of the desserts were just not all that tasty,” smiles Larry. “Today, there are so many more food options for diabetics in the stores.”
Over the decades, Larry’s management of his diabetes changed with development of technology. He now maintains his glucose levels using an insulin pump - a small, wearable device that delivers insulin into the body, eliminating the need for frequent insulin injections.
“I love it, he laughs. “You couldn’t take it away from me if you tired.”
Larry is also appreciative of the care and advice he has received at St. Joseph's DEC.
“The staff are great and are always there to answer any questions that I have,” says Larry. “Education about managing this disease is so important, especially for people who are diagnosed young and might think they are invincible to everything. Knowing how to live and manage this disease is crucial.”
After 50 years of living with diabetes, Larry reflects back on his journey.
“I feel grateful, “he says. “I’m enjoying my time with my children and grandchildren. It’s a joy to see them grow up – everyday has been a gift.”
Celebrating diabetes warriors