It was celebration of perseverance and success in managing a disease many were told would kill them by age 30. All have lived with insulin-dependent diabetes for 50 years or more, benefiting from the tremendous advances in care and technology over the past decades.
But in a touching moment, 82-year-old Bernt Brauer turned to his wife and handed her his Diabetes Half Century Award, calling her “my best cheerleader.” Married for 45 years and a father of seven, Bernt said “life has been good to me because of the care I have been able to receive. It’s been a good life.”
On Nov. 26, Bernt was among seven recipients honoured with this year’s Diabetes Half Century Awards presented annually by St. Joseph’s and Novo Nordisk Canada Inc. Patients with insulin dependent diabetes who reach 50 years since their diagnosis are nominated by their endocrinologist for the awards. Each receives a print of London’s Banting House and a special medal to commemorate their achievement. The medal was introduced last year. Made possible through a grant from Sanofi Canada, it was designed by a St. Joseph’s diabetes patient and features the Flame of Hope at Banting House.
St. Joseph’s – the only hospital in Canada who hosts the awards – has honoured more than 125 patients over the past 11 years. Like all who receive the award, this year’s recipients have remarkable tales of hardship, fear, strength, determination and success that has allowed them to live well with diabetes. Here is a snapshot of this year’s recipients:
Diagnosed as a young father, Bernt said he knew something was wrong while driving with a “sack full of kids” and various other family members in the car. “From the other direction, instead of seeing one car coming at me, I could see two…To me being a diabetic was a death sentence so I decided to live a little – we had one more baby.”
Diagnosed as a young child, Marcia said her intuitive mother noticed “something was different in me and her hackles went up.” Her mother had a friend whose daughter had developed diabetes so the two decided to test Marcia’s urine for sugar as it was done then, mixing drops of urine with a solution, setting it in boiling water and watching the colour it turned.
“They waited and waited, clutching each other and when they saw the results of the test, they wept. They couldn’t believe their eyes.” Marcia’s reaction was excitement that she was “the same” as her friend. “We could share it!”
After her teen years, Marcia’s condition deteriorated and she was referred from Northern Ontario to Dr. Wilson Rodger at St. Joseph’s. “He saved me. I have him to thank for everything I have today.”
Terry was among the first graduating class at St. Joseph’s Diabetes Education Centre, which marked 40 years last year. Diagnosed in 1959, “My grandmother went into mourning because we were told I would be dead by 30.”
She recalls some angry teen years when she questioned “why me.” One of the first Canadians to use an insulin pump, Terry became involved in diabetes research “because things weren’t happening fast enough “and is among many with diabetes who have contributed to significant advances over the years. Living with diabetes, her motto has always been “onward and upward.”
Diagnosed at age 5, Darlene remembers being in hospital over Christmas and terrified that Santa would not find her. He did. School and educating the teachers, she says was a challenge, and the struggle for her parents “was immense.” Her grandfather had diabetes during the earliest days of insulin and they knew what they were in for.
But as time went on, things improved, says Darlene. Told not to consider having children, with good care she was able to give birth to a daughter after four failed pregnancies. She is now about to become a grandmother.
Six years ago, Darlene suffered a heart attack that eventually led to quadruple bypass surgery. Coming through the surgery is a testament to her diligence in managing her condition over the years. “They said I’ve done everything right in life and not to stop.”
Also told he would not live to see age 30, Bob laughs and says “most of the doctors I’ve had have now passed on”. Bob, on the other hand, is still going strong.
Diabetes was such a challenge, however, that he had to quit school after Grade 8. He had difficulty controlling the condition and had missed too many classes to continue.
Out in the working world, Bob made his way, eventually becoming a business owner “and my own boss.” His advice to others with diabetes is “keep at it. Keep plugging along.”