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.