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'It hasn't been an easy life' - Man with Type 1 diabetes for 70 years given medal

PUBLISHED: 14:10 17 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:10 17 July 2019

Derek Harrison of North Walsham, who has received the Diabetes UK Macleod gold medal for living with Type 1 Diabetes for over 70 years. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Derek Harrison of North Walsham, who has received the Diabetes UK Macleod gold medal for living with Type 1 Diabetes for over 70 years. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2019

Life hasn't always been smooth sailing for North Walsham's Derek Harrison, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes 70 years ago.

The Diabetes UK Macleod gold medal for living with Type 1 Diabetes for over 70 years, given to Derek Harrison of North Walsham. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Diabetes UK Macleod gold medal for living with Type 1 Diabetes for over 70 years, given to Derek Harrison of North Walsham. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Now, the 81-year-old has been awarded the John Macleod medal by Diabetes UK for his courage and perseverance in living with the condition.

Diabetes has meant Mr Harrison has needed insulin injections twice daily since age 11, meaning he has faced the needle more than 50,000 times.

Mr Harrison said he had the NHS to thank for his survival.

He said: "Before the discovery of insulin in 1921 people had to live on cabbage water. I think they probably realised that it was carbohydrates that were causing the problem."

The Diabetes UK medals for living with Type 1 Diabetes, given to Derek Harrison of North Walsham for 50 years, (bronze) left, 70 years (gold) centre, and 60 years (silver). Picture: DENISE BRADLEYThe Diabetes UK medals for living with Type 1 Diabetes, given to Derek Harrison of North Walsham for 50 years, (bronze) left, 70 years (gold) centre, and 60 years (silver). Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Mr Harrison said finding out he had the condition at such a young age was a traumatic time.

He said: "Before the diabetes started I quite overweight, It was awful really.

"They called me 'fatty'.

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"Then at the beginning of 1949 I started to loose wight, that was the first sign of the diabetes.

"The second sign was the intense thirst. I would put had my head under the tap and drink, drink, drink."

After being diagnosed, he had to spend six weeks at Bedford Hospital and was told he would have to follow a strict carbohydrate-controlled diet with no cakes and no sweets.

Mr Harrison said he had slipped out of his diet in his teens, but was scared back into it after hearing horror stories of what that can lead to, including amputations of toes and feet.

He said: "It hasn't been an easy life. If your glucose levels get too low you can throw a wobbly, and I have thrown a lot of those over the years.

"You become a different person."

In Type 1 diabetes, blood glucose levels is too high because the body has destroyed the cells that produce the hormone, insulin. Only about 8pc of everyone with diabetes has this type, and the rest have Type 2 diabetes, in which the body can still make insulin, but not enough of it, or it doesn't work properly. Type 2 diabetes can be affected by lifestyle and factors such as obesity can put people at greater risk, but this is not the case with Type 1.

Mr Harrison is a retired engineering draftsman. He married his wife Rita in 1959, they had three children together and the couple are now coming up to their 60th anniversary.

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