Les Smith – 48 years living with diabetes

Chairman of Diabetes SA, Les Smith, tells us about this 48-year journey of living with Type 1 diabetes.

Les Smith (78) lives in Cape Town with his wife, Jackie. They have two adult sons and two grandchildren.

My journey with diabetes began 48 years ago when I had to go for a routine medical check-up to change one of my insurance policies. Unexpectedly, lo and behold, I was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

At that time, I was playing top class hockey and club cricket. Because of the recurrent foot bruising, and the old-fashioned way of checking blood glucose with urine strips, and giving injections once a day, I stopped playing hockey, but kept on with my cricket for another 25 years.

Thanks to my wife, Jackie, family and friends, I have been able to live a normal life. Though, it’s been a lifetime of thinking daily about being a diabetic, educating myself and keeping a strict daily routine of eating habits. It was always important to take note of what I was eating and when I was exercising.

Countless ups and downs

In the early years, I was one of four who opened Waltons Stationery, worked night and day, played sport, gardened and had two wonderful sons. I have had many ups and downs with glucose levels, especially in the years following my diagnosis.

I remember how often my wife would look at me, and know immediately that my glucose levels were low. Even then, I would sometimes argue. But, overtime I accepted that she was right, it was low and I had to correct it, or face the consequences.

Learning the best way to control diabetes

Today with the development of modern medication and sophisticated testing machinery, Type 1 diabetes is much easier to control than it was five or six years ago.

I have learnt that the best way to control glucose levels is to watch one’s diet, keep as fit as one can, and keep active the whole year round.

My two grandsons, who are eight and six, help too, by keeping me active. My wife and I go walking for at least an hour and half a day when the weather allows. Thank goodness, we live in Cape Town and our climate allows us to do so.

I’m grateful that I’m energetic and keeping healthy and that diabetes has not presented any harmful side effects during this time. I hope this will continue for many years to come.

Being part of Diabetes SA

The last six years as Chairman of Diabetes SA has been the most rewarding experience of all my years as a person living with diabetes.

Sixteen years ago, I decided to be an active member and my involvement has deepened since then. The knowledge and camaraderie I have gained has been exceptional.

Like all organisations, we have changed, but diabetes remains the same: a dangerous condition, with the second largest death rate in South Africa.

And, although we have branches in most of the provinces, this is not enough. We continue to face challenges, including meeting our financial needs, and recruiting diabetes patients to help with our branches and support groups. Nevertheless, thank goodness, we have passionate personnel still running and educating within our diabetes organisation.

It’s been an honour to work alongside dedicated individuals and with people who live with the everyday challenges of having diabetes.