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In 1947—only 25 years after the discovery of insulin—Dorothy Bergmann was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 13. Treatment options and resources looked very different 75 years ago: people had to boil their insulin syringes and test their urine to find out their blood sugar levels. Yet Dorothy never let her diagnosis define her life.

I wanted to control my diabetes; I did not want it to control my life. I had dreams of having a family and living a long life, and I did not allow my diagnosis to change that.

Dorothy became one of the first registered nurses in Canada with type 1 diabetes. In addition to working and raising five children, she volunteered with the Canadian Diabetes Association (now Diabetes Canada).

Now 89 and living in Hamilton, Ont., she remains busy, travelling across the country to visit her children and grandchildren. She also enjoys sunsets at her cabin (along with a glass of red wine) and continues to practise good diabetes management. Dorothy spoke with us to share her secrets to living a long, healthy, and meaningful life with type 1. 

Owning her diabetes diagnosis

“At 13, I was still young enough to be challenged by things that I could learn about, and I wanted to ‘own’ [my diabetes],” says Dorothy. She and her parents, who lived in Toronto, travelled to St. Michael’s Hospital, where she received comfort and care from her healthcare team.

“They reassured me and taught me how to take my injections and how to measure my insulin,” she says. “They also made me realize that this was the beginning of a lifetime journey. There is never a holiday from diabetes.”

Rather than feeling defeated, Dorothy saw an opportunity to learn how to manage the condition well and later to help others living with diabetes. When she was 16, she met Nobel prize-winner and co-inventor of insulin, Dr. Charles Best. “It was so wonderful [to] meet one of the men who was responsible for saving my life,” she says.

A lifetime of giving back to the community

As a nurse, Dorothy helped people manage their diabetes both physically and mentally—not only their symptoms, but their mental health and wellness. For healthcare professionals, she says, “[it’s important] to determine if patients are accepting or resenting their they will strive to be successful and accept [diabetes] as part of their life.”

Dorothy’s commitment to improving the care that people with diabetes receive in Canada led her to volunteer with Diabetes Canada to help establish uniform standards that healthcare practitioners across the country can use with their patients. “My dream was to be able to travel anywhere in Canada and feel supported, and [to know that] that other people could travel anywhere or live anywhere in Canada and have access to the same diabetes care.”

Well-earned words of wisdom

In 2022, Dorothy shared tips and insights on living well with diabetes, along with lessons from her life, as a guest speaker in Diabetes Canada’s webinar Diabetes in Older People. When asked what she would say to a young person who had just received their diagnosis, she mentions the Diabetic Manual for the Mutual Use of Doctor and Patient. Published in 1929 by Dr. Elliott P. Joslin, this book inspired her to “learn everything about diabetes, insulin and lifestyle changes. This meant knowing how to balance your exercise, insulin, and diet to work together to control your diabetes so that it didn’t control you,” she says, adding, “If you learn to be disciplined and arrange your lifestyle to accommodate that, you can live a very long, satisfying, and good life.”

Did you know?

Diabetes Canada produces the Clinical Practice Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Diabetes in Canada (Guidelines), which offer recommendations, based on the latest research, that help physicians and other healthcare providers provide the best care to their patients. The Guidelines also provide messages for people impacted by diabetes, including Older People with Diabetes.

Author: Leah Siversky

Category Tags: Healthy Living;

Region: National

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