Logan Man Endures Juvenile Diabetes For 45 Years< < Back to
LOGAN – During the 1950s and 60s, children diagnosed with juvenile diabetes were often made fun of or were treated as though they had leprosy or some other type of disease.
Today, people, including children, are more educated about Type 1 (juvenile diabetes) and understand it better. While diabetes is a disease, it is not one that is contagious. However, it is hereditary.
Type 1 diabetes or juvenile diabetes, as some may refer to it, is normally diagnosed in children and young adults. Although one may be diagnosed at an early age, the type of diabetes does not change as you grow older. For example, once you reach the age of 25, you won’t all of a sudden change from a Type 1 to a Type 2 just because of your age. Once diagnosed with Type 1, it will always be considered Type 1.
A diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes means your pancreas is no longer capable of producing insulin. Proper diabetes management is comprised of a handful of elements including blood glucose control and insulin management, exercise, nutrition and support.
Type 1 diabetes can affect major organs including the heart, blood vessels, nerves, eyes and kidneys. Regulating your blood sugar level close to normal can drastically reduce the risk of complications.
Michael Thompson, known as Farmer by all who know him, will be turning 50 years old this year, and was diagnosed at the age of 5 with juvenile diabetes. And while many things have changed over the years with treatments, medication, etc., Farmer still suffers from juvenile diabetes.
In Type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce insulin, which is a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed in daily life.
When Farmer was first diagnosed, he was suffering from flu-like symptoms. His parents had taken him to see a doctor, but nothing seemed to help. A few weeks into having the symptoms, he started losing weight and had tingling feelings throughout his body.
Once he was diagnosed, his mother, Bonnie Johnston had to not only educate herself and other family members, but also the teachers and fellow students of Farmer’s on how to deal with a child who has diabetes.
“It was hard because people treated him different,” she said. “Back then people didn’t know how to react to a child with diabetes – it was almost like they were afraid or something.”
Although he was treated differently, Johnston was adamant in her quest to educate everyone on the disease. It was a new experience for her as well, but she continuously asked questions and researched for answers.
“It was a learning process for all of us,” Johnston said.
Farmer stood strong and once kids realized he wasn’t contagious, his life became a little easier. Farmer graduated from Logan High School in 1984, but due to his diabetes, he never had the opportunity to fulfill his career dreams as many others have.
Farmer wanted to work in the drafting field or anything art-related. He also was interested in becoming a diesel mechanic.
“This is not what I wanted out of life,” he said. “But it’s a part of life and you just learn to cope with it.”
Regrets? Farmer said he has none, other than not being married and having children.
“There was a time that I was mad about it,” Farmer continued. “I was mad because I couldn’t get married and have children. There was a time when I felt sorry for myself; I rebelled. I just wanted to be like everyone else – like my friends. And, I went through spells where I wouldn’t take care of myself.”
Farmer’s life has been from one extreme to the other and everything in between, according to Johnston. “But, I’m still here,” Farmer said laughing.
First, he was diagnosed at 5 with juvenile diabetes; nine years ago his left leg had to be amputated due to the diabetes; the following year, his right leg was amputated; an aerosol can exploded and Farmer lost his left eye; five years ago he suffered his first stroke and since has had multiple strokes; he now has Stage 4 kidney disease; and in November 2014, he suffered from three heart attacks and spent 33 days in the hospital.
Due to the multiple strokes, Farmer’s right side also has been compromised.
Approximately 20 to 30 percent of those with Type 1 diabetes develop kidney damage, a condition called nephropathy. The risk for kidney disease increases over time and becomes more evident years after the onset of the diagnosis. This complication carries significant risk of serious illness such as kidney failure and heart disease.
Farmer may need to start dialysis soon due to his diagnosis of Stage 4 kidney disease.
“If you turn your back on God, eventually it will catch up to you,” Farmer said.
“There’s never a dull moment around here,” stated Johnston. “You gotta joke about it or you’ll just sit around and cry.”
“It is what it is,” Farmer added. “It’s just a part of life and better me than you or my mom.”
Through all the trials and tribulations of his life, Johnston said Farmer has never complained. “Why complain?” questioned Farmer. “It’s just a part of life.”
Farmer has prosthetic legs and while he may be unsteady on his feet, he loves to travel and does so each day through the world of technology. “I travel the world with my wife, Paddy (his iPad). I’ve been to Cheyenne, Wyoming, and Norfolk, Virginia. I vacation every day through Google Earth,” he laughed talking about all the places around the world he has visited.
“It keeps me occupied,” Farmer added. “However, sometimes my wife, Paddy, raises my blood pressure,” he joked.
“Farmer is always upbeat,” said Johnston. “He was always upbeat, even through all the problems he’s had.”
When asked how he got the nickname “Farmer,” Johnston said that when he was born, he was a large baby and when she looked down at him, “He looked like a little old farmer,” she laughed. “That name has always stuck with him. No one calls him Michael – it’s always been Farmer.”
As far as his long-range outlook, Farmer said, “I do what I can and when God’s ready for me, he’ll call.”
Those with Type 1 diabetes need to follow guidelines including:
• Take insulin as prescribed.
• Eat a healthy, balanced diet, paying attention to the amount of carbohydrates in each meal.
• Monitor blood sugar levels several times a day.
• Get regular physical activity.
At the present time, there is no cure for diabetes, but by following guidelines set forth by their doctor, those with Type 1 diabetes can live long, productive lives.
Type 1 diabetes is relatively uncommon and accounts for only approximately five percent of people with diabetes. According to the Diabetes Health Center, Type 1 diabetes appears to occur when something in the environment – a toxin or a virus – triggers the immune system to mistakenly attack the pancreas and destroy the beta cells of the pancreas to the point where they can no longer produce sufficient insulin.
Symptoms include increased thirst; increased hunger; dry mouth; nausea and occasionally vomiting; abdominal pain; frequent urination; unexplained weight loss; fatigue; blurred vision; heavy, labored breathing; and frequent infections of the skin, urinary tract or vagina.
Through all the heartache, the pain and suffering, Johnston and Farmer have stood as strong advocates of the disease and have learned to conquer their fears. Although she knew nothing about the disease 45 years ago, Johnston is a wealth of knowledge now and continues to seek answers and hopes for a cure someday.
As for Farmer, he has his ups and downs, but he’s held strong all these years as well, lives each day to the fullest and smiles a lot — as he says so calmly, “It is what it is. Better me than mom.”
His courageous battle is a reminder that there is hope for others who may be diagnosed with the disease. He may not have won the battle yet, but Farmer is truly a survivor.