Ron Crawford, from Dudley near Cramlington was presented with the John Macleod medal at an event at North Tyneside General Hospital.
The great grandfather who lives in the Northumberland village with wife Ruby, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in August 1947 when he was 11 years old.
He was presented with the medal by Dr Stuart Bennett, Consultant Physician for endocrinology and diabetes at the Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Michelle Stebbings from Diabetes UK at the hospital where Ron receives his diabetes care.
The John Macleod medal is awarded to people who have lived with diabetes for 70 years. (John Macleod was awarded half of the Nobel Prize for the discovery of insulin). Ron, 81, has previously received medals from Diabetes UK for 50 and 60 years of living with diabetes.
Ron remembers what it was like to find out he had diabetes in the middle of the school holidays: “Back then we didn’t really know a lot about diabetes, we found out by accident really. My mam and dad noticed something was wrong, I was going to the toilet a lot and just wasn’t right. The doctor came round to the house, as we had to pay then- it was the year before the NHS was formed. He took a test and sent me straight to hospital and that was that, I had diabetes.”
Treatment and understand has changed drastically in the 70 years since Ron was diagnosed
After spending three weeks in hospital, Ron had to begin learning how to manage the condition and testing his blood glucose levels was not so straight forward. He recalls having to test his glucose levels by using a test tube and benedict solution over a flame, a far cry from the blood glucose monitors he uses today.
Ron also recalls how a lack of understanding impacted his life at school. “My family asked the headmaster if I could leave for lunch a little earlier so I could get the bus home to get my insulin injections and he refused, so I had to run home each day. One day I passed out on the way home and someone found me and took me back to my house. It affected me and I lost a lot of school time because I was worried about getting ill while I was there. A lot has changed since then, mainly because people know more now.”
Having grown up in Cramlington and marrying his wife Ruby in 1957, the couple moved south to Stevenage for work, where they raised their family and Ron worked as a turner and later as a liaison engineer for British Aerospace.
Having lost sight in one eye in his thirties due to complications and experiencing hypos at work, he took early retirement from British Aerospace in 1991, at the age of 55 and moved back up North.
Diabetes hasn't stopped Ron
Ron explains that he has never let his diabetes get in the way of life, despite struggling at times: “After we retired Ruby and I had more leisure time, we got to go out dancing more often at the local social club - we love to dance, and we went on as many holidays as we could. Diabetes hasn’t got in the way of living life to the full.
“I’ve learned to understand diabetes, how it affects me and the best way to keep my diabetes under control and I don’t dwell on the past- what’s happened has happened. I’ve been lucky enough to have received great care over the years and I’m grateful for that.”
He’s also grateful for his large family and the support they offer, despite the tragedy of losing his sons Ronald and Michael. His grandson Graham and wife Lindsay, who live round the corner from Ron and Ruby, also attended the presentation.
Graham, 37, said: “I am amazed at how well my grandad has done over the years, after everything he’s been through in his life. He is strong for his family and a pleasure to know and be around. I feel that my grandad has not let his diabetes take over and he has tried his best to control it, and receiving the John Macleod medal proves just how well he has done. My wife Lindsay and I were pleased we could be at the presentation and we are so proud of him.”
Michelle Stebbings, Senior Volunteer Development Lead at Diabetes UK said: “It has been a pleasure and honour to celebrate this occasion with Ron and the family. Ron is an inspiration, and has really shown how taking control of your diabetes can lead to a long and healthy life.”
Dr Bennett, who oversees Ron’s diabetes care at North Tyneside General Hospital, said: “I was extremely proud to present this special medal to Ron, the first time I have given it to someone who has lived with diabetes for 70 years.
“While diabetes care has advanced dramatically since Ron was diagnosed, it is testament to him, with the support of his wife and family, for looking after himself well over the years that he has reached this milestone.”