Johanna Vandermeer, left, and her husband John were recently awarded certificates of recognition and a medal for John from the Joslin Diabetes Centre of Boston, Mass. The awards recognize John successfully living with the disease since 1960 and the support he has received from Johanna when times got tough.
CHRIS BUSH The News Bulletin
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By Chris Bush - Nanaimo News Bulletin
Published: February 11, 2011 12:00 PM
Complications from diabetes can drastically shorten the life expectancy of people who contract the disease.
But there are rewards beyond longevity for those who beat the odds.
John Vandermeer, 80, of Nanaimo, recently received a certificate of recognition and a medal celebrating 50 years of successfully managing and living with the disease from the Joslin Diabetes Center of Boston, Mass.
Vandermeer is one of just 4,000 people worldwide to receive the award.
The Joslin Diabetes Center is affiliated with Harvard Medical School and is considered one of the world’s pre-eminent diabetes research and clinical care organizations
His wife, Johanna, was also presented a certificate recognizing her five decades of support in helping her husband manage the disease and treatment.
Vandermeer discovered he had Type 1 diabetes after symptoms flared up while he was bowling one night.
“I couldn’t see the pins very well and the lane numbers,” Vandermeer said.
He knew there was a real problem when he bowled and the ball nearly jumped over the gutter into the next lane.
Driving home was a challenge and when he arrived, he collapsed to his knees inside the house.
On Dec. 29, 1960 he was officially diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. He spent two weeks in hospital while medical staff stabilized him and determined how to best manage his treatment.
In 1960 portable blood tests did not exists. A patient relied on the chemical reaction from a urine sample, which told him what his blood sugar level was four hours earlier. An insulin dose was based on that reading.
Vandermeer credits his wife with saving his life three times when he passed out and was unable to correct his blood sugar levels himself.
Portable electronic blood monitors that give immediate results made life easier and the disease safer to manage when they became available in 1980.
Vandermeer has always relied on insulin injections to stabilize his blood sugar levels.
Insulin pumps that monitor blood sugar and inject insulin automatically throughout the day have eliminated the need for some patients to rely on injections, but Vandermeer prefers to take his five insulin injections each day.
“I don’t like the pump for a lot of reasons,” he said. “I don’t like things hanging off of my body. People go to bed with that thing and they lay on the line. That blocks the line and in the morning their sugar is raised sky high.”
Johanna said pumps work better with children 10 and over. They get used to the pump quickly and it makes life easier for them.
“For young kids it’s quite important,” she said.
Heart attacks, blindness and strokes are common side effects of diabetes.
Vandermeer survived one stroke in 2003 and a heart attack in 2004. He has recovered from both, but the stroke slightly impaired his ability to walk and speak.
The secret to long lives for diabetics, he said, is to be disciplined with diet and treatment.
“You have to take it seriously from the beginning or the damage starts and all of a sudden you get these terrible things happening, like eye trouble, kidney disease, blindness,” he said. “I know one guy who lost both legs.”
Vandermeer stays busy on the Internet, communicating with other diabetics, trading tips, advice and stories about managing the disease.
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