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Joslin Awards 51st 75-Year Medal

Monday, May 07, 2012

Barbara Wagler was 12 years old on Feb. 10, 1936 when her mother took her to get a Valentine’s Sundae at a local ice cream shop. That sundae sent Barbara to the hospital, where she was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.

Seventy-six years later, Barbara stood on stage at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston to receive her 75-Year Medal, only the 51st to ever be awarded by Joslin.

Barbara has been successful in her self-care with a positive, but realistic, attitude. “Each day, you have to get up and say ‘you have to be better than you were yesterday,’” she said. “You have to fight. And I get mad sometimes because I think my fight is gone. But it isn’t, because I’m going to fight ‘til I die.”

When Barbara was first diagnosed, treatment was very different from today. There was only one type of insulin available, and much of the self-care regimen included a strict diet.

Even so, she acknowledged that slip-ups, particularly in the diet of a 12-year old, happen—and that it’s okay once in a while. “When I started, they said ‘you cannot have [certain foods], and you can’t do this, and you can’t do that.’ Well, I was the age then where I thought ‘Who's going to tell me I can’t?’” So every once in a while, when she was craving a “forbidden” food, she would allow herself that one treat—“I said ‘if you think you can’t live without it, you have to eat it, then quit.’”

In the past 76 years, treatment has progressed enormously with the advent of diabetes technologies. Barbara swears by her insulin pump, which she calls “marvelous.” It’s allowed her to maintain an active life, which includes travelling all over with Milford, her husband of 60 years. And now that her vision has started to weaken, Milford helps her change the pump. “He’s learning,” she smiled.

Barbara has had two heart attacks in recent years—one from low blood sugar, and one from high blood sugar. But she’s made it through with support from her husband and her daughter and, she said, “you have to say your prayers. That’s important to me.”

Her advice to people growing up with diabetes is simple: “All I can say is just try to pay attention. You can’t do everything right, or I couldn’t,” she said. “But it’s a winning battle; it’s not a losing battle. Because each day, I find, when you go to bed and you lay there and you think ‘well, what did I do wrong today?’ and I think ‘well, you did something right because you’re still here.’”

Do you know someone who has had type 1 diabetes for 50 or 75 years? They may qualify for the Joslin Medalist Program!