Diabetes Legends: Winsome Johnston – who proved her doctors wrong through good management

Winsome Johnston has made a habit of defying expectations. She was born in 1918. Back then, people with diabetes were lucky to live for a few years, let alone a full and healthy life. Winsome knew this first-hand: her sister had died from type 1 diabetes at the age of 16. So she wasn’t surprised when, upon her own diagnosis at the age of six, doctors told her she wouldn’t live very long.

Winsome is 86 now. Not many have lived longer with diabetes.

Even if she did live a full life, the doctors were sure, she certainly wouldn’t be able to have children. Pregnancy can have a huge effect on blood glucose levels, which wouldn’t have been manageable in those days. If pregnancy didn’t kill her, it would certainly damage the baby.

Winsome had four healthy children, including twins. Now she has eight grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren.

The secret to Mrs. Johnston’s longevity is commitment and discipline. She has seen the same diabetes nurse, Rab Burton, for eight years, and in that time she has never missed an appointment. “I’ve learned so much from her. And every day I tell her story to people,” said Mr. Burton, who also has type 1 diabetes.

The diabetes care described by Mrs. Johnston looks unrecognisable today: “There was nothing around in those days so to test the urine, doctors would boil it up in a little test tube over a flame. If it turned a ghastly chocolate brown colour it would indicate something was wrong with the blood sugar levels. The doctor came into the waiting room waving his test tube with brown urine and I burst into tears.”

From those early days of unwieldy injections and jars of brown urine, Johnston has lived through countless developments in diabetes care. 20 years after her diagnosis, finger-prick blood glucose tests were introduced. The idea of an artificial pancreas probably sounded very science fiction when Winsome was diagnosed.

Through it all, Mrs. Johnston’s diabetes management has been exemplary, and she has faced every challenge fearlessly. As Mrs. Johnston has probably never said: “You winsome, you lose some.”

Image source: 3news.co.nz

Information adapted from 3news.co.nz and stuff.co.nz.

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Kurt Wood

Kurt is 22 years old, but he looks about five. He was born in Coventry and enjoys novels in which nothing much happens and comfortable pyjamas (because he's young and exciting). In 2014, he was once again overlooked for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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