Celebrating 75 Years Strong With Diabetes

Celebrating 75 Years Strong With Diabetes

People ask me how it’s possible for me to have had type 1 diabetes for almost 75 years without any serious complications. I want my diabetes community to know that I am by no means the picture of perfect health.

During my early childhood, I had three kinds of measles, tonsils removed, a hernia operation, mumps and chickenpox. I was very much underweight, and very sickly in September of 1945, when diagnosed with diabetes at age 6.

My diagnosis was made a few days after my sixth birthday. I had symptoms of type 1 diabetes while recovering from chickenpox and mumps. Those diseases probably caused my diabetes.

Animal insulin brought me back to life, and I regained my normal weight. My health was very good during the rest of my childhood. School, six years of college, and becoming a college professor did not cause many problems. It was the insulin from pigs and cows that did that for me.

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My First 50 Years of Life With Type 1 Diabetes

There was lots of very high blood sugar and some seizures at night for my first 50 years living with diabetes, but I remained in good health. There was no meter to measure my blood sugar until the mid 1980's. I had to rely on urine testing, and the way I felt.

In the mid 1990s I stopped taking animal insulin and started using modern-day insulin. That resulted in much weight gain, given that modern-day insulin can cause the body's cells to store fat.

I was diagnosed with insulin resistance in 1998, a common characteristic of type 2 diabetes. As it turns out, a type 1 diabetic with insulin resistance is called a double diabetic, and many people with type 1 diabetes these days have been diagnosed with insulin resistance.

I used type 2 medications, and lost all the weight I had gained. I am still using 1000 mg of Metformin each day.

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Diabetes in the New Age 

In the early part of the new century, I was diagnosed with retinopathy and neuropathy. Those were my first diabetes related complications. I started using an insulin pump in 2007, and my blood sugar became much more stable.

That’s when I stopped having bad hypos (low blood sugars) that required assistance from my wife. My A1C's were consistently in the 5.5-6.5% range, but those complications still occurred because of the highs and lows I had been having years prior.

The insulin pump and more stable blood sugars saw my retinopathy disappear in late 2007. The neuropathy was still present, but it rarely bothered me at that time. A good A1C and reasonably stable blood sugars have resulted, after 74 years of type 1 diabetes, with no serious complications.

My Life with Diabetes Today 

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In 2002, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer. After chemotherapy and radiation I had anemia. I was very weak and lost a lot of weight. There were other problems including cataract removal, carpal tunnel, and ulnar nerve surgeries. I had terrible dizziness that caused me to fall on several occasions.

My neurologist diagnosed me with autonomic neuropathy in 2010. A 30-40-point drop in my blood pressure when rising from a seated position in the mornings caused dizziness (a common characteristic of autonomic neuropathy). In 2016, an EMG test given by my neurologist revealed neuropathy in my legs. My neurologist says the neuropathy is severe. There’s numbness in my feet and legs all the way to my hips, but there is not much pain.

I am not using any medication for neuropathy; maybe it’s not actually so severe. In fact, I can walk rather well without a cane. There is some problem with my balance, but physical therapy has helped me very much with that!

My eyes and kidneys are doing just fine, and I had a nuclear stress test in 2018 that shows that my heart is in good shape. But my overall health has not always been so good. Many people assume (given my age and long history with type 1 diabetes) that I’ve always had great health and no diabetes complications. But I wanted to let you know that there have been problems, and I’ve made it through them.

Earning My Medal of Honor

The Joslin Medalist Study, which began in 2005, has examined more than 1,000 type 1 diabetics who lived with their diabetes for at least 50 years.

I have the 50 year Joslin medal, and will be eligible for the 75 year medal in September of 2020. I participated in the Medalist Study in 2009, and again in June, 2018, for a follow-up study. Many super fascinating things have been found through these studies.

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Dr. King, head of the project, announced that there is a special inner protection that keeps many of us from having any serious problems with our eyes, kidneys, and nervous system. I have mentioned problems with my nervous system, but I still think I may have some of that protection. Maybe the source of that protection will be found; hopefully, it results in a treatment that will help younger people with type 1 diabetes to live long, healthy lives.

I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my lifetime. A wonderful marriage, two sons, and two grandchildren, none of whom have or had diabetes. I am 80 years old, and my wife is 75. We will celebrate our 56th wedding anniversary on May 31, 2020.

Life is beautiful, even with (and perhaps because of) diabetes.

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Richard Vaughn
May 20, 2020

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