“When I look back on it, the word for what it was, all those years ago, was primitive,” says Delores (Dee) Brehm, a 50-Year Joslin Medalist, diagnosed in 1949. Of course Dee Brehm is referring to the management of diabetes before the era of technology which, as she notes, “makes life so much easier now.”
Like a Chemistry Set
Both this Joslin Medalist of 56 years with diabetes and her partner and husband, Bill Brehm, are philosophical about those years when syringes had to be boiled and sharpened on emery cloth. They also remember “Benedict” solution, test tubes and more boiling procedures. All of this was comparable to using a household chemistry set.
“We had to accept what was available,” says Dee, who adds that the biggest change for her came with the blood glucose meter. The Brehms obtained one of the earliest models from England, and Bill remembers that it was “certainly the first useful tool we had to monitor blood glucose in real time.”
These Joslin donors have been instrumental in the funding of Joslin’s Medalist Study—led by Joslin Research Director George L. King, M.D.,—which studies the blood and DNA of people who have survived diabetes for 50 years or more. Besides providing financial assistance, Dee is participating in the study herself because, as she puts it, “I feel so grateful to be alive after all of these years of brittle diabetes without complications.”
The potential impact of Dee’s participation in this study is also clear to this couple: “It’s an important thing to do,” says Dee. “If I have something special that has protected me, and the Joslin scientists can find out what it is, then perhaps that could help someone else.” Recently, Bill was invited to join the study as well, as a member of the control group.
Accelerating the Search
The Brehms are true ambassadors to the diabetes community. Bill is affiliated with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and both Dee and Bill are involved in creating a type 1 diabetes research center at the University of Michigan. Indeed, they have been extraordinary philanthropists in this endeavor at the institution that diagnosed Dee and first managed her diabetes.
“We are interested in accelerating the search for the cure of type 1 diabetes,” explains Bill. “We seek to bring new tools to bear to support the scientific endeavors and to facilitate the analysis and collaboration of the research process. We also want to enable the complex enterprise that is needed to change this malady from a chronic disease to a cured disease. We must align all the planets in the type 1 diabetes universe and establish a grand coalition, with clear goals and pathways.”
It is this spirit of collaboration and invaluable participation in the process that make the Brehms such a special couple. Or, as Hillary Keenan, Ph.D., the Joslin Medalist Study Coordinator puts it: “I have appreciated the Brehms’ ardent support of the Medalist Study—contributing not only monetarily, but more importantly, with their time and input. They have been a pleasure to work with and they truly exemplify the spirit of the 50-year Medalist group.”
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Page last updated: April 21, 2019