Ninety-year-old Winsome Johnston is the “absolute role model” of a type 1 diabetes patient, says diabetes clinical nurse specialist Rab Burtun, who has worked with her for 15 years.

Johnston was born in 1928. Only a few years earlier, children usually died within a year of being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. But she was lucky enough to not develop type 1 diabetes until she was six – just over a decade after live-saving insulin was first used in 1922 to bring a 14-year-old Canadian boy back from the brink of death. Mass production of insulin began in 1923.

Insulin was a lifesaver, but even after it became commonplace the average life-expectancy of people with type 1 diabetes was still 25 years shorter than people without the condition.

This makes Winsome Johnston living for 84 years with type 1 diabetes all the more extraordinary. She turned 90 last week and an application has been made to the Guinness Book of World Record to have her officially recorded as the longest-living diabetic in history.

Burtun, a Waitemata DHB diabetes CNS who himself has type 1 diabetes, says Johnston’s diabetes management has been exemplary. He says she has never missed a single appointment or skipped a blood test even though she needs to test and inject herself 4-6 times a day.

And despite being diagnosed in the early days of insulin, she went on to train as a nurse, marry and have three successful pregnancies – one with twins – when blood sugar management was still in its infancy.

Now a great-grandmother, Johnston puts her healthy longevity down to a positive attitude and has some sage and proven advice for young people disheartened by a type 1 diagnosis.

“If you manage it right and be consistent, you can live a long and happy life,” she says.

“Winsome is truly a remarkable woman and an absolute role model for anyone coming to terms with having type-one diabetes and struggling to find motivation to maintain a healthy lifestyle,” says Burtun.

“I find, especially for young people, that it can be difficult to comprehend the importance of managing your diabetes well. I speak about Winsome to all my patients as the gold-standard of the long and fulfilling life you can lead with diabetes.”

Inspired by Johnston’s long and careful management of her condition, Burtun applied to Diabetes UK when she was in her late 70s for her to receive the Macleod Medal for living successfully with insulin-dependent type 1 diabetes for more than 70 years. Johnston has since added to her medal collection with the Diabetes New Zealand’s Sir Charles Burns Memorial Award and last year she was presented with Diabetes UK’s HG Wells Award for successfully managing her type 1 diabetes for more than 80 years.

That most recent award was presented at Waitemata DHB’s first Living with Diabetes Awards, which were organised by Burtun in recognition of the self-discipline and commitment required to manage type 1 diabetes successfully. Twenty-one patients in total received certificates and flowers to recognise their own management of the disease over 50 years or more at the  2017 ceremony.

Johnston and Burtun now wait for confirmation that her longevity is not only inspirational but also record-breaking.


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