The World’s Longest-Lived Insulin-Dependent Diabetic

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Last week marked the death of a person most of us have never heard of: a Canadian woman named Sheila Thorn.  While she may not have been a household name, Ms. Thorn will be appreciated by anyone living with Type 1: she was one of the very first people to receive artificial insulin — from none other than Frederick Banting himself. According to Diabetes UK, that made her likely to be the world’s longest-lived insulin-dependent diabetic (in the sense that she was an insulin-dependent diabetic who actually received insulin!). 

It’s sad that she’s gone — I would have loved to have interviewed her about her experience watching technology change over her lifetime (by the time she died, she was on a pump). But if nothing else, reading about her life inspired me to reflect on just how much has changed over the past 90 years since insulin was discovered — and just how recent that discovery was. Caught up in the daily frustrations of glucose management, I often lose sight of the fact that if I’d had this disease just a hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have survived. Let’s hope that the progress of the next hundred years is just as dramatic. 

Here’s a brief obituary of Ms. Thorn, from the BBC.

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Comments (2)

  1. Patricia Mitchell at

    My grandmother, Rhea Terwilligar was diagnosed with diabetes when she was 12. She also was one of the five children who received insulin. She passed away in 1997 at the age of 87.
    She had been on insulin for 75 years. I knew there was one other woman who of the original five had lived past her teens. Perhaps it was Miss Thorn. Wonderful thought. And the doctors kept cautioning them that they wouldn’t live past their teens, Never have children etc. My grandmother had eight great grandchildren before pneumonia took her.

  2. Barbara Bell at

    My 93 1/2 year old father, William J. Bell, residing in Georgia has been insulin dependent since he was 7 years old! Taking insulin for 86 years! He received the 75 year award from Eli Lilly 11 years ago! He still reads the Wall Street Journal and has a wonderful positive spirit. His journey is amazing!

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