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My Personal Milestone: Living with Diabetes for 75 Years

Jul 06, 2017

Barbara-BorrellI was born Mach 26, 1942 at Highland Hospital in Beacon, a small town on the Hudson River located 70 miles north of New York City. In 1942, there were only two doctors for the city. They did everything: delivered babies, removed tonsils, set fractures, and made house calls after regular office hours.

In 1942, moms who gave birth stayed at the hospital for 5 days. I was born March 26, 1942 at 11:15AM, weighing in at 5lbs. 9oz. My attending nurse apparently noticed my listlessness and proceeded to take a Tes-Tape (yellow litmus paper) and padded it on my wet diaper. The results showed a deep dark green indicating “sugar in the urine.” This happened when I was just one day old. 

In 1942, utilizing the urine and Tes-Tape was the only way an individual with diabetes might indicate the amount of sugar in the urine. A yellow Tes-Tape meant “no sugar” and a dark green mean “sugar.” 

In 1942 there were no 911 or helicopter services. The Sheriff’s Department was notified and I was driven to the nearest ER, which was 30 miles away. The doctors there had never dealt with a newborn. Blood was taken from my toes to achieve some medical data as to this diabetes diagnosis. I was given two units of NPH Beef Long-lasting Insulin (Eli Lilly produced either Beef or Pork insulin at the time).

There were no diabetes educators at time, no nutritional labels, no carb counting, or even an ADA, JDRG or AADE. In fact there was nothing available in 1942. My parents were taught to give insulin shots by using an orange since it had a similar consistency as human skin. There were also given these words: DIE: 
D=Diet
I=Insulin
E=Exercise

And told, “DO THIS DAILY OR BARBARA WILL DIE!”

My parents set up 15-minute exercise plans for me 6 times daily, which we did until I was 12 years old. 

A glass syringe, glass plunger and ¼” stainless steel needle were the equipment used to inject insulin. To sterilize the devices, my parents would have to soak them in boiling water for 10 minutes and then put them in a sterilized glass container. After the third injection, my parents would have to file the stainless steel needle as the needle got burrs.


I have lived through all the advances made in diabetes. No one would ever imagine that anyone could but I did and do it every day.


No dietary instructions were available at this time but the Chief Registered Dietitian from St. Francis Hospital lived in my home town so she would stop by our home to assist my parents with meals and regulating my blood glucose levels.

My parents kept notebooks of all my food intake, insulin dosages and urine sugar levels. They always reviewed their notes with the doctors. The nuns at my school were also taught how to watch for hypoglycemic attacks and they always had orange juice on hand. My classmates were also told what to do. Everyone always carried candy suckers for me to have in the event of a hypoglycemic reaction.

It was a banner day when in 1955, “CLINITEST” was introduced onto the market! Five drops of urine into a test tube with ten drops of water. The results were if the test showed BLUE in the test tube it meant NO SUGAR IN THE URINE. If the color progressed to a bright yellow & then orange meant severe sugar in the urine. The expression “HAPPY WHEN I AM BLUE” became the slogan for diabetes

Entering college became a challenge in 1959. Glass syringes, glass plungers and stainless steel needles were still the trend. Working with the university, my parents were able to get menu selections geared towards diabetes eating and the insulin pump living.

By 1963 disposable syringes were available. In the late 1970’s an evolution of astonishing diabetes advancements was introduced: U-100 Insulin from U-40 & U-80 Human insulin, blood glucose meters, and then finally the insulin pump 

I have lived through all the advances made in diabetes. No one would ever imagine that anyone could but I did and do it every day.

4 comments

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  1. Jul 09, 2017

    I am blessed as I have NO DIABETES COMPLICATIONS! The lack of diabetes education available to  my parents when I was born on 1942 & the learning that my parents & I grasped through childhood, adolescent & adulthood were improvement  steps  for  my overall  health.

    At the age  if 5 years   I knew I wanted to be  a dietitian. My  education & training  a as  Registered Dietitian//Nutritionist has   greatly  help me maintain the success  I have  for 75 years  living with Type 1 Diabetes

  2. Jul 08, 2017

    I have NO  Diabetes complications Eyes, Kidneys, Heart, etc are all  functioning .

    Being 75 years living with diabetes  I have  no recorded  diabetes complications

    I have developed arthritis in my  knees , back & hands--but that comes with AGE

    I walk 1-2 miles each day or climb 40 steps three times daily 

    The principles  that  was instructed  to my parents:

    DIE-Diet, Exercise & Insulin,  I still adhere to religiously

  3. Jul 07, 2017

    I had retina surgery in 1973 but since  my eyes /vision are perfect.

    I  have  no neuropathy in my feet, legs  or hands.

    I routinely & every 3 months see my Endocrinologist along with  my Cardiologist , Podiatrist &  Retina Specialist

    I have  no  cardiac, kidney  or other diabetes  complications .

    I just  received my  Eli Lilly & Joslin Diabetes Awards 

    Being  trained & educated in the  field of nutrition /dietetics  & practicing as a Registered Dietitian  has  helped   maintain  my health & well-being

  4. Jul 07, 2017

    hi. you have done a great job , i think you are a tough fighter , i would ask if you suffering from any diabetic complications 

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