Bob Krause is a modern-day diabetes hero. He celebrated his 90th birthday on May 27, and has lived with diabetes for 85 of those years! He was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just a few years after insulin was invented by Banting and Best. Today, he is a retired chemical engineer living in San Diego with his wife, with whom he celebrated 57 years of marriage last year. He is the father of two sons and a daughter, and grandfather of eight. His secret? Eat right, exercise, take your insulin, repeat.
Bob is not the only type 1 diabetic in his family. His younger brother was diagnosed with diabetes a year before Bob in 1925, but died from it because insulin was not yet available where they lived. His older brother also had diabetes, but passed away tragically in a car accident. His son, Tom, was also diagnosed with diabetes in 1985 when he was 24 years old.
Bob recently received a medal from the Joslin Diabetes Center for his 85 years with diabetes, making him the longest-living person with diabetes ever! He’s not quite used to all the media attention, he says, but was kind enough to give us a few minutes of his time on the phone to talk about his amazing accomplishment:
DM) Congratulations on becoming a Joslin medalist. How did that come about?
BK) My doctor, Dr. Patricia Wu from Kaiser, got this all started. I didn’t apply for that medal, though I did apply and receive a 50-year medal. She must have done it. It came as a big surprise to me. My son was hosting my 90th birthday party, and she presented to me.
Living for 85 years with diabetes is amazing! How do you do it?
God’s been good to me. He wants me around for some reason. God keeps us alive, we don’t. You just do what he wants you to do. I am Roman Catholic and I live by the Catholic process of living. You don’t stuff yourself with food. You eat food to take care of yourself. You do the things that you have to do. Food is just a source of energy. I live by the same knowledge that I did 50 or 60 years ago. As a diabetic, you either eat to live or you die. So you have to two choices.
How were you diagnosed? How did your mother know you had diabetes?
Well, her other son, my younger brother, had died from it the year before. So my mom called the doctor and the doctor said I had diabetes. The doctor said I wouldn’t live long. And I’ve lived longer than all the doctors who said that.
What was it like trying to manage your diabetes back in the day without any modern tools?
I just took insulin for every time I ate. My mom weighed everything I ate on a scale. All I got was what she weighed and gave to me. Back then, they wouldn’t give you any carbohydrates. All they gave you were protein and fats. No carbohydrates. Back in the ’30s, there was really no candy around. I gave my own injections, because my dad worked and he traveled, so he wasn’t there to do it. My mom had five kids to take care of, so she taught me how to do it myself.
Did you ever rebel or cheat?
I guess not, because I’m still here! I had very good parents who taught me what to do and I obeyed them. I lived at home until I was about 26 years old, because I was going to college. The college was within walking distance of my home. My mom recognized that I was old enough to do things myself. You have to learn and grow up, and my mom was very good at teaching me to take care of myself.
How often do you see your doctor?
Probably every 6 months or something like that. The doctor can’t really do anything for you. They can just run tests and find out what’s happening. But they can’t do anything for you. Insulin and eating properly and exercising — that’s all stuff you have to do.
How do you manage your diabetes today? Do you use an insulin pump or a continuous glucose monitor?
I’ve had an insulin pump since they’ve been out. It’s a Medtronic Minimed. The doctor I had then at Kaiser introduced me to it. He thought it was a good idea. I found out that an insulin pump helps me control my diabetes better than injections. Because when you inject a long-acting insulin, you can’t take it out if your blood sugar drops. And if your blood sugar goes up, you can take more insulin. It’s all under your control on an insulin pump. My diabetes is under much better control. I don’t use a continuous glucose monitor. I check my blood sugar 8 to 9 times a day.
What’s been the worst thing about living with diabetes for you?
Before I graduated from high school in 1937, nobody would hire me because I was a diabetic. I had to earn my living by being in business for myself. I made wooden bowls and wooden plates and sold those. No one would hire me because they thought a diabetic wouldn’t live that long. Before the war nobody hired me because the insurance companies wouldn’t allow them to!
What would you say is the best thing about living with diabetes?
I became a college professor! In 1941, when we were bombed in Pearl Harbor, they wouldn’t take me in the army, so I got a job then because everyone else went off to war. Because I was diabetic, I didn’t go into World War II. Instead I went to college and I graduated. When all the GI’s came back to go to college, there were no professors, so they hired me. If I hadn’t been a diabetic, I may not have come back. I had a lot of friends who didn’t come back. Having diabetes has certain advantages.
What was it like when your son was diagnosed as an adult? Does he try to emulate you?
We knew he had it because he kept eating and kept losing weight. But he wasn’t living at home; he was living at his own home. I was concerned, but I can’t tell my son how to live. I can give him advice, but he has to live his own life. I can’t live it for him. He does a lot of physical labor at work, compared to the job I had. So he eats more and he’s not as active at checking his blood sugar as I am.
After living with diabetes for so many years, do you ever get burned out or frustrated?
I don’t get frustrated. If my blood sugar goes high, I check it and take insulin. Getting frustrated doesn’t help you any. Just use your mental abilities to do what you have to do. Besides, you can do something about diabetes. You can be frustrated about something you can’t do anything about. But with diabetes, you can take care of yourself.
When you met your wife, did she help you take care of your diabetes or were you independent?
My wife and I loved each other and we took care each other. That’s all I can say. We still take care of each other.
Do you have any complications from having diabetes for so long?
I’ve taken care of myself and I’ve never had any diabetes complications. I had bypass surgery, but that wasn’t from diabetes. The artery just clogged up. I’ve had my hip replaced and my knee replaced. But that’s just because they wore out. Everything eventually wears out.
My A1Cs run between 6.4 and 6.7. My doctor says that’s a good place for them to be. If your A1c is in a “normal” range, between 5 and 6, that means you’ve had a lot of low blood sugars and that’s very dangerous. A low blood sugar can kill you quicker than anything else. My A1c has been as high as 7, but never higher than that.
What advice do you have for people with diabetes?
Take care of yourself. Nobody can do it for you. If you live like a diabetic should live, you live a long life. Today, I think most people eat for the pleasure of eating, rather than the need for it. It’s like going to a gas station — if you just keep putting gas in your car, it overflows. If you get a buildup of blood sugar and fat, it kills you. The only advice I have is to eat the right kinds of food you need in order to do what you need to do. Somebody who does a lot of physical labor needs more than if you’re working at a desk all day like me.
People can give you advice on what to do, but you have to make up your mind to do it. No one can make you do it, unless you’re a child. As you grow up, you have to learn. You can do it, or not do it. A lot of people have died from it, but a lot of people live with it.
Bob, thanks for taking us back to the basics! You are a hero to every diabetic. Thank you for showing us that we really can do this if we set our minds to it!