MOUNT VERNON — Come Valentine’s Day, Molly Saunders will have been living with diabetes for 50 years. And in honor of that anniversary, Joslin Diabetes Center awarded her a bronze, 50-year medal.
Joslin Diabetes Center has a Medalist Program that awards individuals who have been living with diabetes for 50-plus years. Each medalist is invited to join the Medalist Study where the medical history, lab results and exams are studied.
“Joslin Diabetes Center does research on people like me who lived a long period of time (with diabetes),” Saunders explained. “The center is asking questions such as ‘why do these individuals live so long?’ and ‘how can they help newly diagnosed diabetics take care of themselves?’”
The program started in 1948 and awarded medals to those living with the disease for 25 years as an incentive for those committed to good diabetes care. The program was expanded to 50-year medals in 1970 and in 1996, they handed out the first 75-year medal. An 80-year Lifetime Achievement Award was awarded in 2013.
“When I first heard about their medal program, what you had to do it is you have to, if you can, find your doctor’s information from way back,” she said about the process of getting into the medal program.
When Saunders was first entered into the program for the 25-year certificate back in 1995, her doctor who diagnosed her, Dr. John Baube, had been dead for several years. If you can’t find your doctor, she explained, you try and find family members who remember how old you were when you received your diagnosis. Her father and her uncle wrote in letters to the program confirming that she was 12 years old when she was first diagnosed with diabetes.
She said she remembers that it was Valentine’s Day that she was diagnosed because her mother took away her Valentine’s Day candy. Instead of having candy hearts like her brothers, her mother gave her a small apple.
While she’s now healthy and works hard on managing her disease, that wasn’t always the cause. She explained that when she was a teenager, being a diabetic was hard for her. She became bulimic, which for a diabetic can be life-threatening. She struggled with that disease, along with diabetes, for 11 years. But she was able to get better, become healthy, with the help of her faith. She even wrote a book about it called “Bulimia!: Help Me, Lord.” She said the book tells about how the “Lord led me to people who could help me and counsel me and help me get the things that I needed to learn.”
“There’s a lot of things that can go wrong with a diabetic,” Saunders said. “Blindness, kidney failures, amputations, heart disease. There’s all kinds of things that can go wrong if we don’t do what we’re supposed to do.”
Over her 50 years of living with diabetes, she’s only ever had one complication. In 2009, she got an infection on her leg near her insulin injection sight from reusing old needles due to financial difficulties. It took various doctor appointments to learn that the infection was necrotic tissue, dead tissue. The doctor removed the tissue and she was left unable to walk for almost a year. She learned to walk again thanks to the help of a service dog, which gave her the stability to learn to walk again. Her current service dog, Sunny, is a Saint Berdoodle, a mix between a Saint Bernard and Poodle, that she is training herself.
When asked if she had any advice, she gave an analogy. Cars need four wheels to drive successfully, and like a car, people need four things to maintain a healthy life while living with diabetes.
“You need diet, exercise, medication and Proverbs 17 says ‘a merry heart does good like a medicine.’ That speaks to attitude,” She said. “If you have the right attitude, thankful that you have the knowledge to eat what you’re supposed to eat. Thankful that you’re able to exercise. Thankful that you know how and what medication to take. This is your fourth wheel. It’s almost as important as these other wheels. You can’t go without four wheels on a car. You can’t go without the right attitude.
“(You) have to take the best care of yourself as you can. Perform that every day of your life and your reward is a good life. A good, long life.”
And she follows her own advice very thoroughly, saying that her job is to take care of herself. Every day she checks her blood sugar every three hours, she gets eight shots of insulin, and she walks an hour. She walks either around Walmart if it’s cold outside, or she makes her way down to Firestone where her husband Clyde works.
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