South Devon man is among longest surviving diabetes patients
A Devon man who received his first jab of insulin as a three-year-old boy in 1935 has joined an elite group of long-suffering diabetes survivors.
John Hegan began the then relatively new treatment for the disease as war clouds were gathering over Germany and against a backdrop of recession and soaring unemployment.
Now a grandfather, he continues to live with the disease and has become one of the longest-surviving sufferers in the country.
Mr Hegan, from Brixham, was diagnosed with Type I diabetes and has routinely jabbed himself with the life-saving medicine for the past 77 years later.
He said: “Having injections are now so natural to me that
I can’t remember a time not taking them.
“I have lived a normal life and have a wonderful family and the only thing diabetes has stopped me doing was joining the Navy for my national service.”
In Devon there are around 33,000 Type I sufferers and 18,000 with the Type II form of the disease.
In common with these, John’s body does not provide sufficient quantities of insulin, a hormone which regulates the metabolism.
Without regular doses of the drug, his body is unable convert blood sugar, or glucose, into fuel.
Type I patients depend entirely on external insulin for their survival because the hormone is no longer produced internally.
Mr Hegan was living in Coventry and being cared for at the Birmingham children’s hospital when he was first diagnosed.
He recalled how different things were in the early days of the treatment, which was first developed in Canada 80 years ago.
“This was before the NHS had begun, so the treatment was very expensive,” he added.
“I remember that the needles seemed huge at the time, they were not like the tiny ones that are used now.”
In 1975, Mr Hegan and his wife Jill moved to Devon, where he worked as a legal executive in a solictor’s office. The couple raised a son and daughter, and saw four grandsons grow up.
In recent years the disease has taken its toll: three years ago he had both legs amputated due to gangrene and he now undergoes dialysis three times a week after suffering renal failure.
“I have seen lots of changes in treatment over the years, and have taken many different kinds of insulin,” he added.
“But the condition never prevented me from sports and I played a lot of tennis and bowls when I was younger.”
Fellow sufferer Sheila Thorn, who died earlier this year, had diabetes for 80 years and was believed to be previously the longest-surviving diabetic in the UK.
Mr Hegan, who is thought to have taken the honour, was diagnosed just a year after Diabetes UK – then the Diabetic Association – was formed by novelist HG Wells and Dr RD Lawrence, both sufferers.
Graham Cooper, Diabetes UK South West regional manager, said: “Mr Hegan has lived a full life thanks to the developments made in the management of diabetes during his lifetime – we wish him all the best in the future.”