Perseverance Pays: Certificate of Achievement Awards Long-Term Diabetics

| Jun 1, 1998

Sixty-seven-year-old Gerald Lundstrom thinks it's his hearty Swedish stock that has something to do with his good health after fifty years of diabetes.

In fact, the Minneapolis native has lived with the disease so long that he hardly took notice when the fifty-year mark passed. Then some promotional material sent by the Joslin Diabetes Center caught his eye.

"It was an award for anyone who had lived with diabetes for fifty years," says Lundstrom. "I thought, 'who the heck gives a damn if I have diabetes.' " He filled out the questionnaire anyway and sent it in. A few weeks later first Joslin then Eli Lilly and Company called. They both wanted to give him a medal.

Both awards are a chance to honor the bravery of those living with diabetes. While a cure still has not been found for the disease, technological advances like blood glucose monitors, insulin pumps and new forms of insulin have made diabetes care easier and more effective.

Diagnosed with type 1 in 1946 at the age of 14, Lundstrom had none of those advances. Instead, he sharpened a crude reusable syringe with a stone and had to estimate what his blood sugar was by using a urine strip.

"When I first had diabetes I used to dismantle the syringe and boil it in a pot of water to sterilize it. And they had pieces of wire to stick in the needle to keep it open," remembers Lundstrom.

Since there was no way to have an exact blood sugar reading, Lundstrom often depended on his own judgment and his wife's.

"I had the most problems at night with lows," says Lundstrom. "In the past if I was running a 4+ or a 4- on the urine test strip I'd eat something, but, of course, if I was active, that'd change everything. So the wife and I would have to estimate if my protamine zinc insulin was still working into the night."

He's also experienced his share of discrimination. Working in a warehouse for a roller bearing company, Lundstrom noticed that newly hired employees were given promotions while he remained in the same position month after month.

"No one ever came right out and said it was my diabetes," says Lundstrom. "Still, I knew they were wary of it, and I sensed that had something to do with it."

One summer as a child he became unconscious from a low while visiting his aunt and uncle in the country.

"They called the doctor in a panic and he came out and injected me with glucose," remembers Lundstrom.

After the hypoglycemia incident his relatives made it known that they were not equipped to deal with such a fright again. From then on he stayed in the city.

Lundstrom says when he was diagnosed with diabetes it was the only time he ever saw his father cry.

Well, his father would be smiling now if he saw that his son has had a full and rewarding life despite his diabetes. In addition, he has had little trouble with diabetes complications.

"I have some macular degeneration in my eyes," he says. "Essentially I see with one-eye-and-a-half."

Other than that, he has been remarkably lucky, and Lundstrom knows it. Still, he's the first to admit that life with diabetes can be an uphill battle sometimes.

"This disease is tough and I've had my dose of scary insulin reactions," says Lundstrom. "Still, I'm not one to let the grass grow under my feet. Life goes on."



The Joslin Diabetes Center's certificate program was a labor of love started by Dr. Joslin in 1970. The program recognizes the accomplishments and challenges of living with the chronic disease.

Currently the program offers a certificate of achievement to anyone who has had diabetes for 25 years or a bronze medal and certificate to anyone who has had diabetes for 50 years or more. To qualify, a person with diabetes must be able to prove their diagnosis date through medical records or family records. Once qualified, Joslin will then contact Eli Lilly and Company which also awards a medallion necklace and certificate.

According to Nora Hallinan, coordinator of the Joslin program, 1,500 medals have been given out so far and the program is growing in popularity year by year.

There are even two people who have recently received the 75 year award called the "Achievement of Life Award," says Hallinan.

Every year Joslin has an annual January meeting in Boston for its award recipients. Hallinan says its a wonderful opportunity for the medical community to commend people with diabetes.

"Dealing with diabetes is a difficult feat. This is our opportunity to recognize that achievement," says Hallinan. "It's a very special day for all of us."

To find out more about Joslin's program call Nora Hallinan at the Joslin Diabetes Center at (617) 732-2564. Or write her at Joslin Diabetes Center, 1 Joslin Place, Boston, MA 02215. Or you can reach her by email at

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