Living with Type 1 Diabetes for Over Eighty Years

If ever there were a diabetic trailblazer, the honor should go toJames William Quander, the longest-living African-American with type1 diabetes on record. Born in 1918 in Washington, D.C., he wasdiagnosed with diabetes in early 1924, shortly before the age ofsix.

At the time of his diagnosis, there were few specialistsavailable to treat diabetes and even fewer with admitting privilegesat Children's Hospital, the local pediatric hospital. As a result,young James was usually the only juvenile patient at Freedman'sHospital (now called Howard University Hospital), the local adulthospital founded in 1863 to care for freed slaves and theirdescendants. There his doctor, also African-American, could carefor him under the segregation laws in place during those years.

According to the doctors at the time, young James was supposed to bedead by the age of ten. His parents, however, chose not to pass onthat expectation to their son. Instead, they told him that he had avery serious illness that he would have to work hard to manage, andthey did all they could to give him the same quality of life as hisfour siblings.

Given the racial segregation of Washington, D.C., from the time ofhis diagnosis through the 1940s (and beyond), James repeatedly dealtwith double discrimination. His race kept him from gaininghigher-paying jobs, and his diabetes, viewed at the time as apotentially contagious disease, led many of his peers to shun him.

He applied for a position with the FBI but was told that because ofhis skin color, he qualified only to work for the postal service.Despite his start at a lowly postal worker job, he went on to workfor the federal government for 33 years as an economist,statistician, computer programmer, and manpower labor specialist.

In another trailblazing moment, James married his wife, JoherraRohulamin Quander, despite the fact that her family came from EastAsian/European roots. At the time, during the 1940s, society wasalmost completely segregated.

Nevertheless, James announced, "Ididn't pick my family, but I plan to pick my wife." She bore himthree boys and one girl, none of whom has diabetes. (His tengrandchildren and two great-grandchildren are also diabetes-free.)They remained married until her death nearly sixty years later.

For the most part James chose to keep his diabetes a secret, notpublicly coming out of the "diabetes closet" until he was in his fifties. By that time, during the 1970s, most people had come torealize that diabetes was not a communicable condition.

In 1971, James was ordained as one of the first Permanent Deaconsin the Roman Catholic Church. On a trip to Rome in 1975, he servedas sole assistant to Pope Paul VI in celebrating a daily mass.

James lived by five simple words: faith, hope, love, perseverance,and discipline. For him, "faith" meant his own faith in God and inhimself. As for "hope," he always maintained the hope that diabeteswould be cured in his lifetime. In his later years, when it wasapparent that a cure was unlikely for him, he put his energy intomanaging his blood sugars and teaching others to do the same.

"Love"meant the love given to and received from his family and friends,which sustained him when his disease was most troublesome."Perseverance" helped him live life to the fullest in spite ofhaving diabetes. Finally, "discipline" topped the list as the mostimportant quality; he was undeniably disciplined in caring for hisdisease for over eight decades.

During his later years, James traced the history of the Quanderfamily clear back to 1684. Originating in Ghana, a branch of hisfamily had been slaves owned by George Washington (freed by Marthaas decreed in the president's will), while others had been freedshortly after their arrival in America. Late in James' life, he andhis oldest son, Judge Rohulamin Quander, set out to document hisremarkable story.

Together they wrote a book, published in 2006,called The Quander Quality: The True Story of a BlackTrailblazing Diabetic ( James insisted thatafter his death, his son donate half of the book's proceeds toHoward University College of Medicine. His is a story that willinspire people for many years to come.

For another inspiring story, see "Brothers' Diabetes Spans History of Insulin", March 2006.

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