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John's 77 years of living with diabetes among UK's longest

By Herald Express  |  Posted: May 31, 2012

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A SOUTH Devon grandfather is believed to be among those who have had diabetes the longest in the UK — after living with the condition for 77 years.

John Hegan, from Brixham, was diagnosed with type one diabetes when he was three-years-old in 1935.

The 80-year-old has taken injections of insulin every day since.

The use of insulin as a treatment was only discovered 90 years ago in Canada. Sheila Thorn, who died earlier this year, had diabetes for 80 years and was believed to be among those who had had insulin-dependent diabetes for the longest in the UK.

Mr Hegan (pictured right) was living in Coventry and was cared for at the Birmingham Children's Hospital when he was first diagnosed.

He said: "My family was told that I needed insulin, which was still quite a new treatment, to keep me alive.

"This was before the NHS had begun so the treatment was very expensive. I remember that the needles seemed huge at the time. They were not like the tiny ones that are used now."

In 1975 he and his wife Jill moved to Devon where they brought up their son and daughter. John, who has four grandsons, worked throughout his career as a legal executive in a solicitor's office.

He said: "I have lived a normal life and have a wonderful family thanks to the insulin I have taken for 77 years.

"Having injections are now so natural to me as I can't remember a time not taking them. The only thing diabetes stopped me doing was joining the Navy for my national service.

"The condition never prevented me from sports and I played a lot of tennis and bowls when I was younger. I have seen lots of changes in treatment over the years and have taken many different kinds of insulin."

In Devon there are more than 33,000 people with diagnosed diabetes, and a further 18,000 believed to have undiagnosed Type 2.

In recent years Mr Hegan has suffered some of the health complications that are connected with diabetes.

Three years ago he had both legs amputated. He has also suffered renal failure and has dialysis three times a week.

Mr Hegan was diagnosed about a year after Diabetes UK — then the Diabetic Association — was formed by novelist HG Wells and Dr RD Lawrence, both of whom had diabetes.

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.

"It is due to the experience of all those affected by diabetes such as Mr Hegan that Diabetes UK has worked so hard to improve care for those with the condition, and continues to do so."

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