Horsforth man honoured 60 years after his diabetes diagnosis

Wharfedale Observer: Kenneth Whittaker with his medals Kenneth Whittaker with his medals

When Kenneth Whittaker was diagnosed with diabetes as a teenager he was given just three years to live.

But now he has been awarded a medal for coping with the condition for 60 years.

Mr Whittaker came perilously close to death before his type 1 diabetes was diagnosed when he was an 18-year-old on national service in 1951.

He said: “I went from 10 stone to five stone before they found out what was wrong.

“I lost my sight and went into a coma – and they sent a telegram home saying they were not expecting me to live,” he said.

But with half-hourly injections of insulin and a three-month stay in hospital he pulled through and was discharged back to his home in Horsforth.

Mr Whittaker, 79, who still lives in the town, has already received an Alan Nabarro Medal on behalf of the charity Diabetes UK to mark living with the condition for 50 years.

And just before Christmas 2012 he received the 60-year version of the award – the Robert Lawrence Medal.

Mr Nabarro fought a long battle to stop discrimination against people with the condition.

Robert Lawrence was a doctor who was diagnosed as a diabetic and who devoted his life to working with the condition.

Mr Whittaker has first hand experience of the discrimination which used to be commonplace.

“After I was discharged I went back to the textiles firm where I had worked before and I was told directly that had I not worked there before the army I certainly would not have been working there now,” he said.

“They didn’t normally employ anyone with diabetes. No one did in those days.”

He never told any of his subsequent employers about his diabetes because he knew he would not have been given a job.

His diagnosis meant he had a death sentence hanging over his head.

“I was given a very short time to live after I came out of the army. I was only expected to live for about three years and I could never get insurance,” he said.

But he defied the expectations, and also went on to marry and have a daughter, Julie, who is an Advanced Nurse Practitioner.

He came forward after reading about fellow diabetes sufferer Ann Clegg, of Ilkley, who has received a medal for 50 years.

Now he wants to find out if anyone else in Yorkshire has reached the 60-year mark.

The pensioner, who tried paragliding in New Zealand when he was 75, stressed a positive message for anyone diagnosed with diabetes.

“It is not a sentence – you have got to learn to live with it,” he said. “The only thing you can do is watch what you eat and learn to balance it.

“It is like everything – if you take control of it then you know where you’re going.”

He added: “I have had a very, very happy life. My next achievement will be my 70 years award.”

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