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Medal winners are fine role models for people with diabetes

10 June 2013

Health Care

Margaret Hart and Russell Leek are proof positive that diabetes need not be a bar to living a full and active life.

Each of them has lived with the condition for more than 50 years, earning them a medal from the charity Diabetes UK.

Margaret, 67, from Southend was diagnosed with the disease after developing an unquenchable thirst when she was just 15. She soon learned how to inject herself with insulin and now, 52 years later, she is still giving herself a jab five times a day.

She said: "The nurses back then were very strict and it was no good being namby-pamby. I just practised on an orange and got on with it."

Scrupulous about hand washing and diet, she is always upfront about her condition. In the last two years, she has developed coeliac disease, a common associated condition of diabetes, which means she must keep to a gluten-free diet as well as a diet for diabetes. But she refuses to let it get her down and has remained working in reprographics at Futures Community College for the last 37 years. She is also a keen cyclist and is currently in training for walking her next half marathon.

She has also participated in a diabetes clinical trial at Southend in conjunction with St Mary's Hospital, Paddington and says: "I will support the hospital in any way I can as they have supported me.

 "It is incredible how many advances have been made in diabetes over the last 50 years. I now see the doctor more often and understand the condition far more.

"I have been incredibly lucky with my health. Even if they found a cure for diabetes tomorrow I don't suppose it would make a huge difference to my life - I would not go and pig out on chocolate. It is a lifetime commitment to diet and I have never felt deprived."

Her advice to newly-diagnosed diabetic: "Don't think it is the end of the world."

Russell, 59, from Ashingdon, was first diagnosed a few months before his fourth birthday after his mother caught him drinking from the bathroom tap.

He said: "She had noticed I was very drowsy and was doing odd things but was totally ignorant then about diabetes.

"I was very fortunate in having a brilliant doctor, who used to call round at our home. He was a wonderful man and I owe him my survival."

Consultant diabetologist, Dr Philip Kelly, said: "To manage one's diabetes so well for 50 years is tremendous. The attention to their health and condition they must have given during that time to keep living so well is incredible. At the time they were diagnosed advanced complications were common and life expectancy was often lowered. They would have been prescribed a diet, a lifestyle and a routine that few of us could adhere to for a day and they have adapted their lifestyle to the changing demands of life amazingly well. Their knowledge of their condition is excellent and they are superb role models for people with diabetes of any type diagnosed at any age.

"We are extremely grateful to have two patients who have managed their diabetes so well for so long who can teach us how to help other patients manage their diabetes."