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!