The Gifts of Experience

Type 1 Long-Timers Impart Their Wisdom for Healthy Longevity

| Aug 1, 2005

There is no doubt that living with type 1 diabetes is a fulltime job. But like any job, the more knowledgeable and skilled you become, the better your chances of success.

This is the powerful and hopeful message that six “pioneers” with type 1 diabetes have come to believe and want to communicate.

Pioneering Type 1s Share Their Stories

Robert Spiro, C. Lynn Wickwire, Connie Giraud, Sandy Asherman, Don Ray and John Bennett have lived with type 1 for most of their lives. Even with half a century of experience and effort behind them, they find themselves on the winning side of a disease process that challenges their very survival every minute of every day.

When discussing their histories, all six demonstrate their skills as innovators and experts of diabetes self-management. Because of this, many researchers and investigators regularly invite them to volunteer as research subjects in their studies, a testament to their unique value to science. There is some irony in their receiving such attention, because they have spent many years proving scientists wrong.

Proving the Prognosticators Wrong

To better understand why, imagine going back about 50, even 60 years, when these six pioneers were young and first diagnosed. Instead of predictions of long and healthy lives, they were told to expect an early death and disabilities such as blindness and kidney failure.

In the face of such bleak expectations, they forged on and built their families and careers. But because the field of diabetes management was brand new, they had no information about how to balance insulin with food, exercise and stress. Daily life meant enduring wildly fluctuating blood glucose levels, guessing appropriate insulin doses and resisting the always-present fear of coma and death.

These hard times lasted for decades. Trying to control blood glucose levels was a very complex job for everybody involved, and the need to establish accurate treatment techniques was crucial for survival.

Experimentation Was the Key to Survival

Over the years, these pioneers kept experimenting with evolving treatment techniques such as urine testing, animal-derived insulin and insulin pumping to find accurate methods of insulin delivery and blood glucose testing. The resulting data helped scientists develop our modern blood glucose meters, insulin pumps and insulin pens. These technologies now form the standard platform of diabetes treatment techniques and have transformed the lives of millions throughout the world.

For their dedicated participation in these important contributions, and with great honor and respect, this group of elders has the well-earned distinction of being hailed as pioneers for their extraordinary experience and achievement.

Secrets of Success From Six Type 1 Veterans

Connie Giraud, 82, Michigan, type 1 since 1944 at age 21

Connie owned an insurance firm and worked as a secretary for a wholesale business. After studies at Tulane University, she acted as a spiritual adviser to people in hospitals and nursing homes. Connie has experienced all of the usual trials of life with diabetes, and she has had the usual difficulties with fluctuating high and low blood glucose levels, especially before she was able to first obtain a blood glucose meter 24 years ago. An active woman who has exercised all her life, Connie has traveled to 33 countries. In 1985 she had heart bypass surgery.

A1Cs: NA


  • Breakfast: A small glass of orange juice, a bowl of Fiber One cereal, milk.
  • Lunch: Whole wheat toast, fish, lots of vegetables, fruit.
  • Dinner: A small portion of meat, fruit, a glass of milk, 4 ounces of Merlot.

Insulin regimen: Humalog 4 units at each meal; Lantus 4 units at dinner.

Testing regimen: Checks her blood glucose four times a day with a Freestyle meter.

Health plan: Medicare and Louisiana CPA Group Health Care—doesn’t cover insulin.

What bothers you most about having diabetes?
Frustration with having to constantly pay attention to diabetes.

How important is it to have a positive attitude?
A positive attitude is essential for healthy longevity. Spirituality bolsters this.

Words of wisdom: Love life and do what is necessary to stay healthy.

Robert Spiro, MD, 76, Massachusetts, type 1 since 1954 at age 25

Robert was in medical school learning about the endocrine system when he started to show symptoms of type 1. His professor told him he was misdiagnosing himself, because he had known many medical students who mistakenly believed they had whatever diseases they were studying at the time. But Robert’s instincts were correct, and after receiving his medical degree he immersed himself in diabetes as a researcher at the Joslin Clinic in Boston. Robert believes his successful longevity with type 1 is due to his medical training and instinct.

A1Cs: Between 4% and 5%


  • Breakfast: Oatmeal, toast, coffee.
  • Lunch: Ham, fish or chicken sandwich on white bread with tomatoes.
  • Dinner: Chicken, fish or veal, rice or pasta, carrots, string beans, tomatoes, zucchini, diet yogurt.

Insulin regimen: Uses an insulin pump and NovoLog insulin.

Testing regimen: Tests six to eight times daily with a Bayer Glucometer Elite XL.

Health plan: Medicare Medex covers all but insulin.

What bothers you most about having diabetes?
Frustration. Excellent control sometimes results in frequent hypoglycemic reactions. But in 50 years, he has never fallen unconscious.

How important is it to have a positive attitude?
Very important. It greatly affects healthy longevity.

Words of wisdom: Consider having diabetes to be a challenge that you can meet and accept.

Don Ray, 71, Ohio, type 1 since 1939 at age 4

It may seem unlikely to survive blood glucose levels of 1,200 mg/dl, but Don has. When he was severely hurt in a car crash several years ago, his blood glucose went wild as his body struggled to deal with many massive injuries. Don believes that he survived the crash because the structured diabetes treatment he has followed for the past 66 years kept him healthy. Don worked for American Greetings for 37 years, and now he concentrates his energy on mentoring and motivating parents and kids who are new to having diabetes. He has actively played and coached sports all his life, and they are still his passion. He wrote and self-published a book about his experiences with diabetes and with advice for living well with diabetes.

A1Cs: 6%


  • Breakfast: Two eggs, one slice of toast, a small glass of orange juice, a glass of milk.
  • Lunch: Meat, poultry or fish, bread or potato, vegetable, milk.
  • Dinner: Meat, poultry or fish, bread or potato, vegetable, milk.

Insulin regimen: Went on the pump and takes about 8 units of Humalog at mealtimes plus the basal insulin rate continuously.

Testing regimen: Checks his blood glucose four to five times daily, using an Accu-Chek Advantage meter.

Health plan: Has Medicare as his primary insurance and Healthscope as his secondary plan. Pays for insulin.

What bothers you most about having diabetes?
The most frustrating thing in my diabetic life was that I was not allowed to compete in sports while in high school.

How important is it to have a positive attitude?
I believe that a positive attitude is very important in controlling, staying a step ahead of, and even being better than diabetes.

Words of wisdom: Don’t let fear or anything else hold you back. Every day is a super day, so don’t waste it.

Sandy Asherman, 65, New York, type 1 since 1953 at age 13

Sandy is a trained social worker and teacher now working as a business consultant teaching negotiation. She makes sure that the children she mentors realize that diabetes is not necessarily a death sentence. Her mission is to make it clear to parents and kids that fear can interfere with healthy treatment.

A1Cs: 6%


  • Breakfast: Coffee with milk; either some Stonyfield yogurt—when in a hurry—or oatmeal; skim milk, bran, raisins and walnuts.
  • Lunch: A large salad with cheese or a sandwich of whole wheat bread, lettuce, tomato, cheese or vegetable.
  • Dinner: Salad, vegetables, meat—three to four times per week. If she’s at a special restaurant, she shares dessert with her husband—usually just a spoonful or two. She also eats lots of fish.

Insulin regimen: NovoLog, 18 to 26 units per day delivered by insulin pump. The total dose varies depending upon how much she exercises.

Testing regimen: Seven to 10 times per day, depending upon exercise. She uses a Medtronic Paradigm.

Health plan: United Health Care. Completely covers all testing and pump supplies and insulin.

What bothers you most about having diabetes?
The time it takes to take care of myself.

How important is it to have a positive attitude?
Not sure whether a positive attitude helps longevity, but it sure helps make whatever time you have much more fun!

Words of wisdom: Don’t let fear stand in your way.

C. Lynn Wickwire, 65, Massachusetts, type 1 since 1944 at age 4

Lynn is a lifelong runner. His professional life included city planning, regulating the cable industry and marketing mutual funds. Lynn uses an insulin pump and keeps his A1C levels as close to normal as possible. A music lover, he works out vigorously several times a week and pays attention to everything related to diabetes.

A1Cs: 6%


  • Breakfast: Half a cup of McCann’s instant oatmeal cooked with skim milk, and couple of cups of good decaf coffee. Sometimes he eats a couple of egg whites, either scrambled or in an omelet with onions and tomato and one piece of dry whole wheat toast.
  • Lunch: Half a sandwich or some soup or a salad of some sort with some protein in it.
  • Dinner: Something heart-healthy like turkey meatballs with fresh roasted asparagus, salad and one small piece of bread with a glass of red wine.

Insulin regimen: Wears a MiniMed pump and uses NovoLog insulin. Total amount used in a day is approximately 25 units, with the basal being 0.5 units per hour, except from midnight to 4 a.m., when it is set at 0.6 units per hour.

Testing regimen: He tests at least six to eight times per day, using the BD meter.

Health plan: Blue Cross/Blue Shield “Blue Choice” plan with the co-pay 10/25/45. Has been with them for quite some time and has found them to be very good.

What bothers you most about having diabetes?
I am not sure I have any frustration dealing with diabetes. It is a fact and you have to deal with it—so get on with life.

How important is it to have a positive attitude?
There is no question in my mind that having a positive attitude makes a big difference in affecting longevity with diabetes. I have always viewed the glass as being half full, and I am sure it has had a positive impact in how I handle everything.

Words of wisdom: Learn how to deal with your diabetes, because living with it is not the end of the world.

John Bennett, 56, Florida, type 1 since 1955 at age 6

John had a long career as a computer science analyst and now does Web design work. When his daughter, who has type 1 as well, started using an insulin pump at the suggestion of her doctor, she agreed to the new technology only if her father agreed to use it, too. He feels that using the pump has given him more freedom. He is a self-published author of a book written from a Christian perspective detailing his life experiences with diabetes.

A1Cs: 6% to 7%


  • Breakfast: Eggs, toast and coffee. Sometimes cereal, cheese and coffee.
  • Lunch: Sometimes hotdogs and rolls or a sandwich, maybe with soup. He also likes diet drinks.
  • Dinner: Some type of meat product or poultry, potato, and always at least two vegetables. Dessert, if any, is mostly fruit. Snacks between meals might be crackers and cheese, and he tries to eat some fruit each day.

Insulin regimen: Uses Humalog in his pump. His three-day supply is 160 units, so more than 53 units a day.

Testing regimen: Tests at least eight times a day and uses the One Touch Ultra.

Health plan: Connecticut General PPO with a yearly $100 dollar deductible. Out of pocket expense is 20 percent of the coverage cost, and flat fees for doctors’ visits ($15) and medicine costs depend on whether or not they are generic. Most of his pump supplies (after his yearly deductible) are covered 100 percent.

What Bothers You Most About Having Diabetes?
Other people not caring to understand my condition. For example: During 30 years of working for the same company, I have had one extreme low blood glucose that required medical assistance. I was sent home for the day where I did nothing and lost a day’s sick leave.

How important is it to have a positive attitude?
I personally think that my religious beliefs create my positive attitude. Living with diabetes for over 50 years, you might say that my attitude is, at least, all right.

Words of wisdom: Follow the rules and control blood glucose the best you can.

Tips From the Experts

The life histories of these pioneers are full of joys and disappointments, trials and successes, and they appreciate it all. Some of the behaviors they have adopted along the way are to

  • Learn constantly.
  • Keep moving in a healthy direction.
  • Stay connected with a team of medical experts.
  • Participate actively in the world.
  • Be of service to others.
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Aug 1, 2005

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