Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a child, 80-year-old Valerie Verity has always refused to let the disease slow her down.
Today, Ms. Verity is a vibrant, golf-playing senior. In fact, her good health led to an invitation to share her lifestyle secrets with experts from around the world at a recent conference of the Canadian Diabetes Association in Vancouver. “Naturally, I accepted the invitation,” Ms. Verity says proudly. “I do have a message.”
She credits both her father and a sage Montreal diabetes specialist with helping her to beat the heavy odds against living such a long and vigorous life.
“My father told me to look after myself, lead my life and that I could do anything I wanted to. So I did. You simply do your best with it,” she says.
Ms. Verity’s specialist also gave her precious advice: don’t fixate or obsess over reading too many diabetes articles, amputations and diabetes-related kidney disease.
Ms. Verity has learned the secret to healthy living. Today, her life includes golf, walking, reading and travelling, as well as visits with her daughters and three grandchildren.
“The introduction of long-acting insulin was huge, a real breakthrough. It lasts 24 hours, so you always have insulin in your system.”
Valerie Verity is 80 years old and living with diabetes
The protocol for people newly diagnosed with diabetes in the 1930s differed from today, Ms. Verity says. There are many important things about the old ways that can apply today. For example, empowering oneself to take control of his or her diabetes.
“They put me in the hospital for 10 days, taught me about diet and how to give myself insulin shots, and off I went.”
Insulin checks were done using a sample of urine in a test tube. A pill was dropped in, and the resulting shade of the sample was measured against a colour chart. “You didn’t do it very often, for that reason,” Ms. Verity says. “You went home and lived.”
Ms. Verity takes a personalized approach to managing her diabetes. She battles low blood glucose the same way she always has: with a gulp of orange juice or by crunching down on a candy. “My children said I used to carry sugar cubes and they smelled of my perfume.”
For 60 years, Ms. Verity took insulin by needle twice a day. She now has the injections more often, following recent medical advice to take a little insulin before each meal and a long-acting insulin once a day. “The introduction of long-acting insulin was huge, a real breakthrough,” Ms. Verity notes. “It lasts 24 hours, so you always have insulin in your system.”
Ms. Verity sticks closely to the high-protein, low-fat diet she was advised to follow when she was young. Meat, chicken with no skin, eggs, limited butter and restricted carbohydrates were allowed. Whipped cream and ice cream were forbidden.
“I have ice cream once in a while anyway,” she chuckles.
57% of Canadians with diabetes cannot afford their medication and supplies
Diabetes Champion: Rusty Goepel
Rusty Goepel, a senior vice president at Raymond James Ltd., is familiar to many Canadians through his role in the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, where he served as chairman of the Vancouver Organizing Committee. But since his son Danny was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 18, Mr. Goepel has also been a passionate advocate and fund-raiser for diabetes research for nearly 20 years.
“It was traumatic and unexpected,” he says of his son’s diagnosis. “Danny had to find a new way of living, which is hard to do when you're away at school and 18 years old. But he dealt with it very bravely and effectively.”
Mr. Goepel’s dream and mission is to see diabetes research receive the support required to find a cure. With friends such as philanthropist Dr. Irving Barber and John Bowles, past-president of the Canadian Diabetes Association, Mr. Goepel has worked to help the Canadian Diabetes Association raise funds for new research initiatives. One of those initiatives, the Ike Barber Human Islet Transplant Laboratory, focuses on generation of insulin-producing cells. The Diabetes Research Program at the Child and Family Research Institute, led by Dr. Bruce Verchere, investigates insulin-producing cells in the pancreas to determine why they stop working in diabetes.
It is with the visionary support of donors and volunteer leaders like Mr. Goepel that the Canadian Diabetes Association is able to help people affected by diabetes.
To hear more inspirational stories from people
who are truly making a difference in the fight against diabetes, go to www.whatacuremeans2me.com.
Diabetes Champion: Lynne Bridgman
For Lynne Bridgman’s family, diabetes requires a disciplined day balancing meals, insulin and activities. For her son Jamie, it has taken away much of his independence: sleepovers, sports, camp or school trips require adult supervision and pricking his finger to draw blood and test his blood glucose level every couple of hours.
“A severe blood glucose low can mean brain damage or death, so whenever your child is out of your sight, you worry,” says Ms. Bridgman, who helps newly diagnosed families with diabetes learn to cope with and manage the disease.
Programs and education for the effective management of type 1 diabetes are scarce, she says. “Currently, most see their diabetes health team every three months – that’s helpful and effective, but it’s not enough.”
One of her dreams is that all Canadians will learn to recognize the symptoms of a blood glucose low in people with diabetes so they can help. “They slowly start to become listless and appear ‘out of it.’ Their words are slurred and they can’t answer questions because they can’t think properly,” she explains.
The quickest remedy, if the person is conscious, is to give them sugar in any form, such as juice, honey, syrup or a sugar packet, she says. “They will most likely have sugar in their pockets, so look there first.
Jamie, his sister and their friends have raised over $6,000 in the last five years for diabetes research by holding lemonade stands; finding, cleaning and selling golf balls; and by walking and running in various events.
To learn more about creating your own fundraising event and online donation page, visit