After All These Years: 83 Years of Living Well With Diabetes: Gladys C. Lester Dull

From the book 50 Secrets of the Longest Living People With Diabetes by Sheri R. Colberg and Steven V. Edelman. To be published in November 2007. Appears by permission of the publisher, Marlowe & Company, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Company. Contact Dr.Colberg at and Dr. Edelman at,

Gladys Dull today

| May 29, 2007

In November 1924, three years after the discovery of insulin in 1921, six-year-old Gladys Dull began her long life of insulin injections. To our knowledge, she is the longest-living person with diabetes to date.

Born in North Dakota, Gladys lost her birth parents during a flu epidemic in 1920 when she was only three years old. Fortunately, she and one of her sisters were soon adopted by some neighbors who were part of the farming community there. She remembers feeling sick before her diagnosis and needing to urinate all thetime. After traveling the nine miles from her country home to the nearest doctor, she was diagnosed with type 1. The smalltown doctor, who did not know how to treat diabetes, suggested that her adoptive parents take her to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Gladys remembers the long train trip from her home to the clinic, where she was immediately admitted to the hospital for treatment with the newly available, Lilly-made insulin.

“I remember the fi rst shot I got and being scared of it,” Gladys recalls more than eight decades later. “The needles back then were a lot more painful than they are now—and a lot more expensive.” Her mother attended educational classes at the Mayo Clinic, learning to weigh wax figures of food that were a certain number of grams. “My mother weighed everything out for me after that,” she says. “She’d let me have one gram more than what I was supposed to have.” Since she wasn’t allowed to eat candy anymore, her grandfather used to buy her a newspaper to read (for the comics) instead, which almost made up for the one piece of candy she had previously gotten on weekly trips into town.

Gladys has enjoyed the support of family and friends all her life. Married in 1943 during WWII, she and her husband, George (who was born in 1915), were separated for two-and-a-half years while he was stationed overseas with his Army unit. After his return, they moved to Walla Walla, Washington, where she worked part-time in a portrait studio for thirty years. At the age of thirty, she gave birth to her only child, Norm Dull, who lives in a nearby town. Her 59-year marriage ended in 2002 with her husband’s death. Amazingly, she has outlived all four of her brothers and sisters, two older, two younger, and all diabetes-free. Her last sister recently died from Alzheimer’s disease (of which Gladys has absolutely no signs, even though the risk is possibly higher in people with diabetes). “After seeing what my sister went through, I would much rather be a diabetic than have Alzheimer’s,” Gladys says.

This spunky ninety-year-old attributes her longevity to being active most of her life and to sticking to her diet. “When I was younger, I did everything—horseback riding, cycling, snowmobiling, motorcycle riding—I always stayed active.” She can tell approximately how much a serving of any food weighs to this day, and she still watches her portions strictly. “I give my mother credit for that,” she says. “She was strict with me, and I thank her for it now.” Gladys’s son credits her with raising him on her diet, saying, “I still eat lots of veggies, thanks to Mom.” Her diet doesn’t vary much, and neither do her insulin requirements.

In all likelihood, another of her secrets is the fact that she has religiously taken her insulin shots since they first saved her life back in 1924. “I have never missed a shot in all these years,” she affi rms. “To date, I’ve had over 60,000 of them.” May we all live so long and do so well with diabetes!

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Categories: After All These Years, Diabetes, Diabetes, Food, Heroes, History, Insulin, Living with Diabetes, Personal Stories, Type 1 Issues

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Posted by Anonymous on 28 January 2008

I have had the SUGAR as I like to call it since I have been 5yrs old. I just hit the 20th year! I do the best I can.... This elderly lady is the strongest person I know.

Posted by Anonymous on 10 November 2008

My father has has had diabetes since he was 34 yrs old and is now 85yrs. My mother has controlled his diet and apart from losing his sight only 6 mths ago he is relatively fit. This lady is amazing and sounds as if she has many more years ahead! A shining example to others embarking on an insulin controlled existence.

Posted by Anonymous on 18 December 2008


Posted by Anonymous on 23 December 2008

Amazing....simply amazing....

Posted by Jerry1423 on 9 January 2009

I have been diabetic for 33 years, and was very happy to read this article. It gives me hope to live just as long.
I do have one question that somehow I would like answered by other people who have been diabetic as long as I ... Were you happier with the animal based insulins of over 20 years ago? I know I was much happier, and well controlled. I would have been better controlled if we had the testing that we do today, but that's another story.

Maybe the writers of this magazine should investigate this topic more, so people can blog it with their opinions.

Posted by Anonymous on 6 February 2009

i have been insulin dependent for 40 years. doctors always say i am an interesting case since i have no complications yet.
i also also diagnosed with the Celiac disease 2 years ago. it seems my over active immune system has destroyed my insulin cells and my gut but has also prevented me from developing diabetic complications.
can anybody use this information? most doctors stare and shake their heads at me in surprise. or maybe ingnorance.

Posted by Anonymous on 11 February 2009

My 19 year old daughter has had type 1 diabetes since she was 12 years old. I am curious about 2 things: Was the older animal based insulin better and what kind of successful diet has been followed to prevent complications. My daughter's doctors just tell her to take the amount of insulin to match the amount of carbohydrates. I think this modern way of regulating food and insulin isn't a time proven method. I would love to know what kind of diet has been followed by elderly type 1 diabetics!

Posted by Anonymous on 28 February 2009

I am 65, and have been on insulin for 53 years. I am blind in one eye from retinopathy, and my kidney function is down to around 18%, but i am hoping to have a live transplant this year.
I notice some people wonder if the old animal derived insulins were better than the current ones. My experience is that the new ones are far superior, particularly the new Lantus type, whcih along with the faster acting Humalog given at meal times, has allowed me a much wider range of control options in my day-to-day existence (I can now skip an entire meal if I want, although this is not something that I would recommend). I would strongly recommend to any type 1 diabetic that they immediately investigate switching to the use of Lantus, as it is the best innovation that has come along since I became diabetic in 1956.

Posted by Anonymous on 16 March 2009

My 9 year old daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 in July of 2008. I found this to be the most inspiring story.

Posted by Anonymous on 14 May 2009

I have been diabetic since the age of 6, over 30 years now. Apart from some laser retinopathy in both eyes I havent had any problems although I am probably at the age when things might "pop their head up". This article gives me great hope though. I started on animal insulin in 1980, the twice a day kind via a glass syringe, then novorapid with protophane twice a day, now I am on Lantus with Novorapid. I found my best control was on the protophane / novorapid mix but it wasnt too practical with 6 injections a day. Lantus / novorapid has been great for ease of use but my blood sugar can run high, and sometimes wildly high, and adjustments to dosage dont seem to have a great impact. It is a much more finely balanced beast it seems that doesnt take random events (like big nights out) very well. I also find hypos come on very quickly these days but that might not be down to the insulin, just the years of being diabetic. I have tried an "exteme diet" control method, with the same insulin dosages, and that gave me super good control of around 6.5 all the time, but was very hard to stick to. I think diet is the major factor to longevity in diabetics mixed in with exercise and insulin control. Wish I could stick to the diet though !!!!!

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