Alice and her warrior grandfather

At a recent gathering of wise, diabetes “warriors” at St. Joseph’s Hospital, many of them in their senior years, there was a young visitor who took it all in – five-year-old Alice.

They came to receive a St. Joseph’s Diabetes Half Century Award presented to patients with type 1 diabetes who reach 50 or more years since their diagnosis. Nominated by their endocrinologist, the patients 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. They also provide hope and inspiration to those who care for diabetes patients at St. Joseph’s Hospital and in the community.

Doug Howe and Alice

Doug Howe was among this year’s recipients. Alice is his granddaughter. Holding her tiny hand, Doug brought Alice up with him when presented with his medal, then knelt and handed it to the youngster.

It was a poignant moment for all those at the ceremony- recipients, their families, and physicians. Alice was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes – at the same age Doug was diagnosed 58 years ago. He wanted his granddaughter to have the medal hoping it’s the only one she receives – that advances in treatment will make such awards unnecessary.

At age 62, Doug, and all the other award recipients, have lived with diabetes for most of their lives. As children it was a lonely journey as they knew few, if any others, with the disease. The fear of not living a long life was real, they endured rudimentary diabetes care and education, and navigated dramatic changes in care and technology over the years. Each is an example of the flexibility and resiliency necessary to manage a chronic disease.

“This makes you diabetes warriors,” Dr. Gillian Kernaghan, President and CEO of St. Joseph’s, told the recipients at the ceremony. “You have struggled through the early years of glass syringes, urine sticks to monitor blood sugar, rigid diets and having to weigh every morsel, and a general lack of education and knowledge. And yet here you are. You symbolize just want can be achieved with perseverance, good management, the best in education, and a positive outlook. 

Alice’s journey will be very different from that of her grandfather. Her meaningful presence at the awards ceremony represents just how far diabetes care has come – from the availability of a variety of insulins and high tech tools that have revolutionized the management of diabetes, to empowering knowledge and education. Today, Alice and others diagnosed are told they can live long healthy lives.

Yet the youngster is also a reminder of the critical need for diabetes researchers to continue their quest. She joins 11 million Canadians now living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. Every three minutes, another Canadian is diagnosed. And with diabetes is the risk of serious complications affecting the heart, eyes and kidneys.

Doug and the other Diabetes Half Century Award recipients are proof that research done in London and across Canada, and translating that research into care, changes lives. This is Doug’s hope for his granddaughter. In the meantime, little Alice has the inspiration and encouragement of a devoted grandfather “warrior.”

Read more about the this year’s Diabetes Half Century Award recipients.

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