Last month Bill H. Pittman, a retired intellectual property attorney, received his 75-year medal from Joslin Diabetes Center, marking 75 years with type 1 diabetes and without any serious complications. Since his diagnosis at the age of three in Lexington, Kentucky, Bill recognized that having a strong emotional support system is essential to successfully managing his diabetes. Bill credits his mother for not only as serving as his advocate, but also, for teaching him how to take control of his diabetes.
“My mother became such an expert (on my case, anyway) that she told the doctors what to do, rather than the other way around,” recalled Bill. “I have this to thank her for, and much else to object to about her upbringing of me. Also of considerable help have been my second wife of 37 years and one of my graduate school roommates.”
For most of his childhood, Bill’s mother took control of his day-to-day diabetes management. It was not until he was 15 and was preparing to attend the National Music Camp in Interlochen, Michigan, that he assumed full control of his diabetes. During two summers at Interlochen, he served as a principal violist for several weeks in the National High School Orchestra and for duration of his time in the Honors Orchestra. Bill continued to play the viola until he moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Schenectady, New York, in 1982, having met his second wife, Meme (a professional violist and string teacher) as stand partners in the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra.
In addition to a strong support system, Bill also experienced firsthand the many innovative changes in diabetes management, and in particular, he attributes blood glucose testing, which pretty much relieved Bill of his frequent low blood glucose struggles, and Lantus insulin as providing more control and fewer difficulties with his diabetes.
Before Bill used blood glucose testing on a regular basis, he encountered frequent episodes of hypoglycemia.
“One triumph with my diabetes was being able to avoid the problems caused by repeatedly low blood glucose,” said Bill. “During the period 1956 to 1984, that was a major hassle for me, but it was largely solved when my support system improved and I started checking my blood glucose.”
Bill also partially attributes his longevity to the occasional alcoholic drink.
“A couple of drinks a day has certainly not hurt,” he chuckled. “But that’s NON-SUGAR drinks.”
Despite all of the advancements that Bill witnessed, he still hopes that artificial devices and advances in gene therapy will help people with type 1 diabetes in the coming years.
“[I hope to see] something in the way of an artificial, either implanted or not, pancreas, more effective than insulin pumps, which I don’t use,” explained Bill. “[I also hope to see] possible gene therapy to at least prevent Type 1, and at the very best to reverse it.”
Aside from the technological advancements, Bill also faced the prejudice towards his diabetes, particularly when he was trying to find a job at the beginning of his career.
“I had difficulty finding a job when I was about to receive my Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Illinois,” said Bill. “I had decided that my goal was, rather than research, patent law which would require my attending night law school.”
He continued, “My first interview was with a pharmaceutical firm (now defunct), which terminated the interview upon learning of my diabetes; it seems that one of its board members was an insurance man and refused to hire diabetics in research, which included the patent department. That was in 1959, long before the Americans with Disabilities Act!”
This incident did not stop Bill from pursuing a career as a lawyer and he spent all but the first year of his 38 year career as a patent attorney.
A lifetime of diabetes challenges and triumphs in addition to receiving both the 50 and 75-year medal award has only served as motivation for Bill, who hopes to receive the 80-year medal as well.