New Zealand is home to the world’s longest survivors of type 1 diabetes. Eighty-four-year-old Winsome Johnston has defied the odds, in more ways than one.
Ms Johnston as always has lots of people to buy presents for around Christmas – four generations, in fact. But none of this was meant to happen.
“They told me if I remember rightly, the doctors, that my life wouldn’t be that long,” she says.
Ms Johnston was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of six. Her sister had it too, but died at the age of 16.
Now, aged 84, Ms Johnston’s the longest surviving person with type 1 diabetes in the world. She’s had it for 78 years.
“I was determined in those days to do what I wanted to do and hopefully it would help me with the little bit of knowledge that I had.”
She was told she would never have kids. But she’s had four, including twins. And now she has eight grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren, and another one on the way.
Rab Burton also has type 1 diabetes and is Ms Johnston’s diabetes nurse. She is his number one patient, having never missed an appointment in eight years.
“I’ve learned so much from her,” he says. “And every day I tell her story to people.”
Mr. Burton says the key to Ms Johnston’s remarkable health is quite simple: discipline. He says the main problem for diabetics is keeping up with the unrelenting task of monitoring every single thing they eat.
He says he’s never met someone as strict and determined as Ms Johnston.
“She followed everything to the book. I think that’s her secret.”
There are two main types of diabetes. Type 2 has reached epidemic proportions in New Zealand. That’s often caused by poor diet or obesity.
But no one knows what causes type 1, which is what Ms Johnston’s got. And that’s on the rise too.
Young Aaliyah developed type 1 diabetes when she was just three-years-old, which came as a shock for her mum, Serena Underwood.
“Unmanaged diabetes can shorten your life,” says Ms Underwood. “So it’s something that is quite a worry if Aaliyah’s sugar levels are too high or too low. There are lots of complications that can come from that.”
Ms Underwood says while type 1 diabetes is possible to manage, it can seem impossible at times. So she went to the woman who knows better than anyone about what living with diabetes is like – Ms Johnston.
The record-breaking survivor gave young Aaliyah a simple tip or two about how to live with diabetes.
“Just as long as you can remember to do all the right things and not eat the wrong things,” says Ms Johnston. “But I know it’s sometimes hard if you go to parties isn’t it? But I think if you always tell the person who’s having a party that there are certain things you can’t eat, then it makes it a lot easier.”
Ms Johnston would like her story to give hope to kids like Aaliyah, who are among the 220,000 New Zealanders living with diabetes.