We’ve just marked the 97th anniversary of the first person to ever receive insulin treatment, on Jan. 11, 1922. While we certainly don’t have global access or affordability for this medication, we certainly have to recognize how far we’ve come since then! And yet we still have a long way to go to assure that everyone who needs insulin can get it. But it’s always interesting to mark these historic milestones and reflect on them in the context of our growing Diabetes Community.
Several years ago, I connected with a fellow type 1 in Oregon who was in his own sixth decade of living with diabetes and being on being on insulin (!), and as it turned out he’s not the only one in his family.
Meet Mike Delano, a 3rd generation insulin-using PWD in the Portland area that I had the pleasure of connecting with online thanks to the Insulin Pumpers group. Diagnosed at age 10 back in 1956, Mike also has a grown daughter who was diagnosed at age 9 in 1986. Not only that, but his mother and grandfather were also type 1s living on insulin!
I find this really fascinating, not only because I’m a type 1 with a mom also diagnosed at 5 years old, but because I’m intrigued by family history and have been exploring my own for more than a decade. So I reached out to this other Mike to learn more about his own D-story and just how far back his family’s diabetes history goes.
At 72 years old now, the proud D-Dad and PWD had been on the West Coast since the early 80s, but originally hails from Hutchinson, Kansas, where his mom and grandpa were from.
Mike told me his mom, Ramona L. Beatty (born in 1928), was diagnosed later in life and became insulin-dependent in her 60s, before she eventually passed on several years ago at age 78. Family lore is that her father (Mike’s grandpa), Oliver Beatty from Hutchinson, KS, was apparently “one of the first” to ever get insulin back in the Roaring ’20s.
Many of us PWDs know the big names in D-history like Leonard Thompson, who was the first insulin patient on that fateful day of Jan. 11, 1922; Elizabeth Hughes, the first person to receive insulin treatment in the U.S. as a child; and Teddy Ryder, who became the first insulin-user to live 70 years. But Oliver Beatty’s name isn’t out there, from what I have seen. I’ve combed through Google and online records, and some of the insulin discovery books like Breakthrough to look for mentions of him, but no luck.
This is what Mike says about his almost-famous grandpa, and his own childhood:
“My mother’s parents divorced when she was young — about 10 — and she lived with her grandma growing up had only limited contact with her father, Oliver Beatty, so I know very little about his story. I don’t think my mother really knew that much, other than he took insulin shots as she was a young child. She used to fill in some of the blanks, like how he worked at a local gas company and died at age 42 in the early ’40s, but didn’t have much recollection of him and never talked about his diabetes.
“My parents were not well-educated, as my mother never went to high school and father was not very interested, so my early childhood experiences were a little shaky to say the least. For me, it was a single shot daily of NPH, lots of sweets to counter lows, and only minimal testing capabilities with the old Clinitest tablets in a test tube. My adolescence and early adulthood were borderline chaotic, although I was never hospitalized. I was very active and and just refused to let diabetes control what I wanted to do.”
Looking back through diabetes history writings, like The Discovery of Insulin, this passage came to my attention:
“In one of medicine’s more dramatic moments Banting, Best, and Collip went from bed to bed, injecting an entire ward with the new purified extract. Before they had reached the last dying child, the first few were awakening from their coma, to the joyous exclamations of their families.”
After hearing Mike’s story, I just had to wonder if Oliver Beatty — even as a teen or adult — could have been in a similar situation and been one of those unnamed, early insulin-recipients. Makes you wonder…
But we will likely never know for sure.
As was most common in those days, people didn’t talk openly about their diabetes as it was really much easier to brush aside, without pumps, glucose meters or the many online tools and connections that have materialized in the past 40 years.
During our interview, Mike said that really, up until the time his daughter Kate was diagnosed, he didn’t focus much on his diabetes management.
“I didn’t set a good example for her early on, and I felt guilty when she was doing so much to control her diabetes,” he said. “I told her, ‘Don’t base your approach on me because I’m just doing the best I can,’ and we had a pleasant understanding about our diabetes. Adolescence is a tricky time in itself, and you have to be careful because you don’t want them to rebel.”
This reminds me of the way my own mom and I had to navigate these differences in D-styles. But Mike doesn’t need to feel guilty at all since his daughter has gone on to have two beautiful daughters, and no more cases of diabetes have cropped up in the family. Actually, Mike says his daughter motivated him to take better care of his own health, particularly when it comes to the ever-changing world of diabetes devices and technology. Kate started on an insulin pump nearly two decades ago, and Mike followed the year after that.
He’s a proud D-Dad, in that his daughter has no diabetes complications. He’s also been lucky, experiencing retinopathy about three decades ago but having laser treatments that have meant he’s been complication-free since then. He’s happily been using the Dexcom CGM since early 2018 and says it’s helped him manage his T1D “better than ever before,” achieving a best in life A1C and making it difficult to imagine D-management without it.
He worked as a woodshop teacher in the California public schools before eventually heading to the Portland area and going into the commercial insurance industry as a risk management field consultant. Officially retired for several years now, Mike was still working part-time when we talked and loved spending most of his time with his grandkids, woodworking, and staying active.
“I feel good and am enjoying retirement with a lot of time spent in my woodshop,” he says. “Last, but not least, I have joined several Facebook groups dealing with diabetes and have enjoyed all the sharing that takes place in that forum.”
Mike says he isn’t enrolled in the Joslin or Lilly medalist programs, though he’s interested and plans to do that soon if he can find enough documentation (read: evidence that he’s been a PWD as long as he says). And he’s also considered donating his own organs for diabetes research.
“That sounds kind of morbid, but I might do something like that,” he said. “I’d love for people to tear me apart, see the good and the bad, and hopefully to learn from what’s going on inside me. Maybe it could even lead to a miracle fix.”
Of course, Mike says he’s not planning to “go” anytime soon and he’s enjoying his retirement — even helping to motivate other PWDs through his endo’s office, where they display pictures and short stories from type 1 patients who’ve hit the 50-year mark or beyond.
“We’re living longer and have come such a long way, and there’s so much to be inspired about since those early days!” he says.
Oh, and want to know something else? After talking with Mike, he sent me this email:
“Thanks for the conversion this morning. I know you might find it hard to believe, but with the exception of my daughter, I have never had a conversation with another type 1. I enjoyed telling my story.”
Great talking to you too, Mike! Our chat was so very spirit-lifting and think it’s awesome to share stories from around our D-Community!