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Published on December 08, 2017

Beating the Odds: Successfully Managing Type 1 Diabetes for 62 Years


Becky Brooks couldn't stop drinking water and was losing weight at the rate of 10 pounds every two weeks.

She had just given birth to her first child, Rhonda. But Brooks feared she herself might be dying.

"A new doctor came to town and my husband took me to see him," she said. "And I had not talked to the doctor five minutes when he asked me if I had diabetes in my family. And when he said that, I knew what was wrong with me...And when he checked my sugar, he said, 'You're going to the hospital now.'"

That was in August 1955.

Last month, Brooks, pictured at right with her granddaughters, was recognized during an event at Moses Cone Hospital for successfully managing her type 1 diabetes for more than half a century.

Brooks, 81, said her faith along with exercising regularly, getting proper rest and watching her diet have been the keys to living a long life in spite of the disease.

11172017_cone_diabetes_award_done-0017.jpgJenny Simpson, diabetes coordinator for Cone Health, described Brooks as being especially vigilant.

"We can do close monitoring now, but when she was first diagnosed, you couldn't really do that," she said. "That just tells me she was very careful about making sure to follow the right regimen. She did a great job. I've been working with diabetes patients for 13 years, and I'm not sure I've ever seen anybody who had diabetes for 62 years."

Simpson said that prior to the 1920s, those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes were not expected to live long. Doctors would often try limiting patients' sugar consumption, but could not provide any long term treatments, and starvation would sometimes result.

The discovery of insulin in 1921 allowed for the condition to be better managed.

Today diabetes affects about 30 million people in the United States, Simpson said.

Brooks, who lives in Siler City, said she was not surprised when she received her diagnosis, as much of her father's family had diabetes.

During her first years of living with the condition, she gave herself insulin shots with a glass syringe, which she had to boil everyday to sanitize. Dipsticks put into urine were used to test blood sugar levels. But she was able to get her condition stabilized, found work as a bookkeeper, and was even able to have another child.

"In those days type 1 diabetics had so many problems with childbearing," she said. "But my doctor told me, if I would tell him what I eat every week and the color of the dipsticks, we could talk about it. So I did what he said. And eventually he told me, 'Go home and get pregnant,' which I did."

When her son Alan was born, he weighed in at eight pounds, two ounces.

Simpson, pictured right of Brooks above with members of the Inpatient Diabetes Program, said diabetes patients can learn much from Brooks' example.

"This does not have to be something that controls you," she said. "This is something that you can control with the right self-care and by educating yourself."

Dave Jenkins, who directs diabetes education at Cone Health, encourages people to know the American Diabetes Association's warning signs of diabetes:  

  • Excessive thirst & frequent urination
  • Increased fatigue
  • Blurry vision & focus
  • Tingling or numbness in hands or feet
  • Slow healing wounds or bruises.

Contact your primary medical provider if you notice any of these symptoms.

Learn more about diabetes prevention and management here.  

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