After All These Years: Gerald Cleveland, Age 91, Has Had Type 1 Diabetes for 75 Years

A life-time resident of the Syracuse, New York, area, GeraldCleveland has had a history of not quite coming out on top – atleast until now.

As salutatorian (the second-ranking person in agraduating class, after the valedictorian) of his high school class,his college program in education, and his Master's degree, hegood-naturedly complains that he was "always coming in second."

In fact, his brother Bob has even had diabetes for seven yearslonger than he, making Gerald second in line when it comes tolongevity with the disease in his family. However, he's first whenit comes to being the oldest individual living with diabetes formost of his lifetime (he's a year older than Gladys Dull), and whenhe makes it to his 100th birthday (as he plans to do), he'll be thefirst person with type 1 diabetes to ever achieve that honor aswell.

For those of us who have not had to live with diabetes nearly aslong as Gerald, it's hard to conceive of having to take a wholesyringe-full of insulin just to cover one meal, using a needle thatwas sharpened on a whetstone and felt like a knitting needle goingin, or spending over fifty years with diabetes without benefit of ablood glucose meter.

Being the second child in his family to get diabetes (afterbrother Bob) was not a good place in line either, as he had alreadywatched Bob suffer through diabetes treatments for seven years. Hetook it on with a positive attitude, though, coming up withinnovative ways to control diabetes with the tools he had available.For instance, he rigged up a quart pot with holes to put test tubesin (instead of holding them over a Bunsen burner), so that he andhis brother could test the sugar in their urine more easily back inthe early days.

Labeled "an archeological find" by his doctor, this long-livingbrother attributes his longevity with diabetes to being active(walking long distances most of his life), being vigilant about hisdiet, and having faith that the best things in life always lieahead. His vigilance about his diabetes control is readily apparent.One of his first diabetes doctors at the University Hospital atSyracuse gave him a menu of what he should eat to control hisdiabetes, and to this day he still has it posted on the door of hiskitchen.

He describes controlling diabetes as similar to "walking on atightrope that's swinging in the air," but admits to havingdeveloped a better sense than most about the effect of carbs andportion size on his blood sugars. He gets frustrated by otherpeople's misconceptions about food, such as when they mistakenlybelieve that "sugar-free" desserts will not have any effect on bloodglucose levels (although the desserts still contain large amounts ofcarbs).

Gerald admits, "I have had a wonderful blessing of longevity andbeing a useful person," a role that he fills to this day. He had along career in education, serving first as a secondary schoolteacher of social studies and then as the first male elementaryteacher in Syracuse, after which he became the principal of anelementary junior high. He earned his doctorate in education whileworking as assistant superintendent of the public school system for27 years, and finally served as superintendent for one year beforehis retirement.

He was a member of the team that founded the public televisionstation in Syracuse and was involved with Junior Achievement. Healso served as an elder at his local Presbyterian Church for seventyyears and worked for the Syracuse Rescue Mission (serving thehomeless and hurting of Central New York) for many years. He wasrecently honored as an outstanding alumnus of Syracuse Universityand has also been recognized by the Joslin Diabetes Center and LillyPharmaceuticals for his longevity with diabetes. He even donates histime at the Nottingham Center, where he currently lives inJamesville, New York, acting as a consultant and advisor to helpother residents learn how to live better with diabetes.

Gerald's life has also been blessed with a 62-year marriage (thatended in 2002 with his wife Mildred's passing), two children, fivegrandchildren, and five great-grandchildren to date. His wife wasvigilant about checking to see if his blood sugars were low at nightand generally looking out for him (not that he needed too muchhelp). To this day, his daughter continues to check in on himfrequently, calling him three times daily to make certain that hisblood sugars are not too low.

Regardless of any physical ailments he has had related to hisdiabetes (such as the loss of two toes on his right foot), he hasalways kept a positive outlook. He truly believes that there areangels all around him – looking out for him – because whenever hehas found himself having difficulty with his diabetes, someone orsomething has been there to help him.

When it comes to being a diabetes celebrity, Gerald admits tofeeling a bit uncomfortable. "I feel like a very ordinary guy, butthen there's this other person that everyone looks up to that hardlyfeels like me – the one who's an inspiration to so many peopleliving with diabetes. I'm just afraid of letting them down somehow."Not much chance of that, Gerald!

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