Title

Personal Stories

No Limit on Life 

Two women defy the odds of their type 1 diagnosis, choosing instead to live their lives to the fullest.

No Limit on Life 

 In 1922 the first insulin shot was given to a 14-year-old boy dying from type 1 diabetes. As Leonard Thompson kept slipping in and out of a coma, he became the first person to receive an insulin injection successfully. With this early insulin, he lived until the age of 27. Since then, the treatment and care of those living with the disease have made great progress over the past 100 years. Continuous breakthroughs and treatments keep improving the management of blood sugar numbers. 

When insulin was first discovered in the early 1920s, the method of delivery used large glass syringes and reusable needles, both of which needed sterilization by boiling after each use. The needles were sharpened with a pumice stone for reuse.

 It’s not easy having type 1 diabetes, but imagine being one of the first children diagnosed with it and then being told you only had a short time left to live.

Discipline can be Key to Winning with Type 1

Winsome Johnston, born in 1928 in New Zealand, was given a type 1 diagnosis in 1934 when she was just six years old. Physicians predicted that she would have a very “short” (3-6 years) lifespan, as that tended to be the diagnosis at the time. 

Early Diabetes Discipline

Winsome’s mother set a discipline for her as soon as she was diagnosed, having already lost a daughter to diabetes 10 years earlier, before the invention of insulin. She died of a massive heart attack at 16. 

Living a Positive Life

Winsome said that a positive attitude was the key to it all. Personally, I believe that this brave woman and how well she did it is amazing, considering all of the challenges at the time. Looking at the syringes and needles that they needed to use makes me want to pass out. After all the challenges she experienced and embraced, Winsome became a nurse, married and then had four children (two of whom are twins). That was after being told she could “never, never, ever think of having children.”  

Her four children also proved her initial physician’s guesses to be incorrect. By following a disciplined lifestyle and diet, she accomplished so much for the time, even with the additional challenge of T1D. After following a disciplined lifestyle and diet, Winsome said she “feels that she did pretty Well. It’s just a matter of getting on with life.” 

Recognized for 80 Years of Taking Care of Herself  

In 2017, Winsome was recognized as New Zealand’s longest-surviving person with type 1 diabetes! She won the HG Wells medal awarded to people living with the condition for 80 years. It sounds like an awesome award to win, and one that discipline played a significant role in! It took hard work and tenacity to stay healthy. Winsome said, “I just hated it. I used to go to the clinics and see these people without legs and arms and things, and I thought I was never going to be like that, and that was when the determination started. “Determination, I think that’s the important word, determination.” 

Winsome was born just six years after the discovery of insulin. She had to have regular injections, but she says the large needles didn’t scare her. “I just thought that’s something I’ll have to do, and I’ll just have to get used to it.” What a brave attitude to have. Winsome was adamant about one thing: “Life goes on, and with good management and a positive attitude, you can live a long and healthy life with diabetes.” 

When Winsome was diagnosed, doctors predicted it highly unlikely that she would live past a few years. But, with 88 years of managing diabetes alone, she was a great example that it can be done. 

In 1934, 28,000 deaths were linked to “diabetes mellitus." With her chances of survival being so slim, it is astonishing that Johnston made it past the “estimated date of death” some 80+ years later than physicians projected.  Winsome lived until 94, passing away in May of 2023.  

 “The secret to Mrs. Johnston’s longevity is commitment and discipline,” says Rab Burton, Winsome’s diabetes nurse of eight years. "Her story of hope, happiness and wellness is an inspiration."

The Johnston family tried to get Winsome recognized in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the oldest person with type 1 diabetes in the world (one of Winsome’s wishes) but the officials said they needed to see the doctor’s signature, which was 88 years ago, and the likelihood of finding that doctor was long gone.

Libby Lashansky 

Another inspirational woman who defied the norm and broke many limited beliefs about what you can and can’t do with your condition was Libby Lashansky. These women, who lived 9,000 miles apart, stayed with their positive attitudes and discipline and made it work. Libby took charge of her diabetes and still does!

Libby Lashansky is a true inspiration! Libby was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1941 at 11 years old. The physician told her she only had a three-to-five-year lifespan, but Libby is now 93. The doctors were off by 90 years.  

Diagnosis and Treatment

 Libby said that she had lost a lot of weight, had a gross thirst and hunger and was taken to the hospital by her mother when she was semi-comatose. They first gave her a Benedict's urine test that came back positive for sugar in the urine, and then her type 1 diabetes diagnosis was confirmed with a blood test. 

They put her on an insulin drip and kept her in the hospital for six weeks to stabilize her blood sugar levels. There, she was taught how to test her blood sugar four times a day and how to give herself insulin shots. During that time, they used glass syringes with long, thick needles that were extremely painful in her small arm. They look scary and are nothing like the microfine needles used today.  Libby says that she also learned to trust her instincts, which, of today, we are very fortunate to have pumps and other state-of-the-art equipment to use that helps significantly with numbers and calculating care and are generally not as painful as they were back then. 

Keeping Quiet

Libby was also told to “keep her diagnosis a secret” because her life would be short. “Back then, you didn’t talk about your ailments, so I kept my diagnosis secret from my friends,” she said. “I concentrated on watching what I ate and going to school.”

Exercise

Lashansky said physicians told her not to exercise, contrary to what doctors tell patients with diabetes today. “I was told it would upset my sugar levels, but I didn’t want to be seen as different, so I did it anyway,” she said. She experimented by walking around the hockey field where she didn’t see a difference, so she kept doing small things not to upset her blood sugar. “I played netball (basketball) and was the shooter, so I wouldn’t have to run around as much.” 

Getting Food Smart

 Lashansky said she decided from the beginning that the best way to prolong her life was to watch her diet carefully—those who know her credit her discipline for her success. “Have a balance between the carbohydrates, the protein and the fats,” Lashansky said, was the regimen that helped to keep her around so long. 

Living a Full Life

She also went on to get her medical degree. “I practiced as a doctor. I lived a perfectly normal life. Diabetes, if one is careful and watches oneself, is not a death sentence.” In addition, she was told that she should never have children because it would kill her. Libby went on to have two children and seven grandchildren; now, she even has three great-grandchildren. Even though having children came with a fatal warning, she went on to have a wonderful family life.  

Extending Life Expectancy

 Even doctors who haven’t treated her are stunned to learn that she has thrived for decades with a disease that once predicted an early death.

JDRF International, the leading global type 1 diabetes research and advocacy organization, told CBS2, “Today, people with type 1 diabetes are living longer and healthier lives, which is a testament to the many research advancements in treatment options, including drug development, devices, and behavioral health interventions.”  

Prehistoric ways of managing type 1 diabetes and being told that you would have a few years of life left to live, and never be able to have children were these women’s fate when diagnosed. Both of these women lived full lives and proved the diagnosing doctors wrong. 

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