DR. LOIS JOVANOVIC'S STORY
In early January, 2009, I received my monthly copy of the journal Diabetes Care and on the cover I was surprised to see not the usual rather conservative picture that typically adorns the journal, but rather, a letter in a child’s script and dated December 21, 1922. I was immediately intrigued and read it; several times in fact. Here’s the letter:
“Nineteen twenty-two” I kept thinking to myself. Wow. Insulin had only very recently been discovered so clearly this child had to have been one of the very first people ever to have been treated. I smiled as I read (and pictured the scene in my mind’s eye) that she had “gathered some nerve together” and given herself her own insulin injection and I smiled again as I read that she was “feeling great.” How wonderful for this little girl and how wonderful for her family that insulin was available to her.
Having been drawn into this young girl’s world I couldn’t help but wonder what became of her. Was this a story of ultimate sorrow or, I hoped, did this girl grow up and prosper? I opened the journal to learn more and was floored to read that the letter was “from the grandmother of one of our own associate editors, Lois Jovanovic.” From the grandmother…of Lois Jovanovic? I read the sentence at least 3 times as I tried to wrap my head around the notion of this child as grandmother and, grandmother to, of all people, Lois Jovanovic. This was simply amazing.
Lois Jovanovic is one of the world’s leading diabetes specialists. Her pioneering work has influenced the way that thousands upon thousands of doctors practice and, accordingly, the treatment given to millions of people with diabetes…likely including yourself.
I was, as you might imagine, intrigued and had to learn more. So I wrote to Dr. Jovanovic and very soon thereafter heard back as she shared with me her beautiful, uplifting and heart-rending tale. I am ever so pleased that she has allowed me to now share her story with you.
In her own words, this is what Dr. Jovanovic told me…
When the University of Toronto celebrated the 70th anniversary of the discovery of insulin in 1992, Dr. Michael Bliss, author of The Discovery of Insulin, wrote a small "souvenir booklet" in which he presented historical vignettes that featured stories of the first group of children who were given insulin. The Chair of Chemistry at the University of Toronto, Dr. Martin Moskovits was at the anniversary event. In 2000, Dr. Moskovits moved to Santa Barbara to become our Dean of Math and Science at the University of California-Santa Barbara.
When I met Dr. Moskovits he gave me Dr. Bliss' booklet. I flipped through it quickly to enable me to write him a proper “thank you” and it was as though I was struck by a lightening bolt. Dr. Bliss included a few pictures in the booklet. A replica of Grandma's letter was featured. I was overwhelmed.
My ancestors migrated to Winnipeg in the early 1900's. My grandma was 8 years old when she developed diabetes in 1922. Of course our family knew that my Grandma was one of the first to get insulin in 1922, but the details over the next 80 years were lost. Thanks to Dr. Banting, Grandma lived to give birth to my father, but died soon thereafter. Father developed type 1 diabetes, and I am blessed to be the third generation with type 1 diabetes.
When I told Dr. Moskovits about the letter in the booklet that he gave me, Dr. Moskovits suggested that I write to Dr. Bliss who not only answered my letter but referred me to the University of Toronto librarian who released to me:
1. My great grandfather's letter to Dr. Banting pleading to him to help because my grandma just developed diabetes and was dying.
2. Dr. Banting's invitation for admission to the hospital in Toronto if the family could keep my grandma alive for the long trip to Toronto.
3. The hospital records including doses of insulin, skin reaction, and urine checks with infrequent blood tests. The control was fabulous! Can you imagine someone reading your hospital notes 80 years from now and being impressed with your care?
4. My Grandma's thank you letter written in December 1922, bragging that she could give herself the insulin injections and that she was still keeping the diet. Grandma loved to draw and I recognized her artwork and her handwriting as mine, so there was no question that we were related!
So that is the story! I loved sharing it with you!