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Great survivor’s 71 years as a diabetic
BEING diagnosed with diabetes before the NHS was created meant poor prognosis, likely amputation and even death.
Michael Knights survived the threat of all these, thanks to the generosity of his father’s colleagues and a strict diet instilled by his mother.
Michael, 74, was diagnosed with Type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes, aged just three.
It was 1941, the Second World War was raging and it was seven years before the inception of the National Health Service.
His trip to the doctor – who predicted he would not live to old age – had to be paid for, as did subsequent medical treatment.
Fortunately, this and costly insulin supplies were paid for via a monthly whip-round held by his father John’s colleagues at a City bank where he worked as a clerk.
From the word go, Michael’s mother, Violet, always ensured his twice-daily injections were carried out at the same time every day, at the family home in Seven Kings, near Ilford.
Sweets were forbidden, all food was weighed to ensure the right balance of nutrients and meal times were on the dot.
Michael, of Alan Close, Eastwood, has avoided increased risk of heart disease, blindness, and infections, which can lead to amputations.
His wife, Valerie, said: “Michael’s mum was fantastic in looking after him.
“There was another girl down the street who had diabetes.
“Her mother wasn’t nearly so careful and she was dead before she was a teenager.”
Valerie adhered to regular meal times, although she admits the regime could be frustrating.
She said: “We could never have family days out and think, oh, let’s go for a meal, or let’s eat a bit later, because Michael just couldn’t.
“But he always sticks with it. He never ever cheats. I admire him for it.
“He is never tempted by things like chocolate, and if we have meals with friends or family, they always make something special for dessert.”
For several months after meeting, Valerie had no idea Michael was diabetic.
The family kept quiet because he had been spurned by his previous sweetheart, who called off their engagement when she realised the then life-limiting implications of the disease. It was only when Michael became ill the truth came out.
But Valerie, who had nursed her epileptic mother, was unfazed by the disease.
There was also prejudice with the illness and Michael, a commercial artist, was even refused work at a City advertising agency when his new bosses discovered he was diabetic.
He was then initially rejected from a post as a technical illustrator for Ford’s, in Aveley, when his condition came to light.
It was only the intervention of an uncle who worked there which ensured he got the job.
Michael suffered a stroke last year, which required major surgery and which has impaired his movement.
Despite this, the grandfather- of-six still manages his injections by himself, and refuses to use digital insulin pens.
His only ‘vice’ is smoking which he was told years ago would help him keep his weight down.
He said: “I am a bit old-fashioned because I still use a syringe. I just play by the rules.”
Maureen Austin, diabetes clinical nurse specialist at Southend Hospital , has been treating Michael for eight years.
She said: “He really has seen some changes over the years. People knock the NHS, but forget how everything had to be paid for before it came into force.”
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