The Best Birthday Gift I Ever Got

WRITTEN BY: David Towler

It was just before my 25th birthday. I was in my second year of law school at the University of Texas, licensed as a CPA, could still run a 10K under 40 minutes and a 5K under 19 minutes, married to my high school sweetheart and had the world firmly by the tail. I was 10-feet tall and bullet-proof. And then God gave me the most important birthday gift I ever got: Type 1 diabetes.

As with many of the best gifts, I didn’t even recognize it as a gift for quite some time. My father had developed Type 1 in 1942 when he was 14 years old, and he died when he was 40. The treatments available during his life could keep him alive, but they couldn’t stop the inevitable progression of the complications. And this was especially true for someone like my father, who climbed poles for Southwestern Bell, and plowed fields and did welding in his “time off.”

For him it was one shot in the morning, one at night and lots of candy for the inevitable low blood sugars. His last few years weren’t pretty, and we had to watch him die a slow, painful and ugly death. So when I came down with it, I had the same vision for my own future. I’m now 60 years old, 35 years with Type 1 and I see things much differently. If I had kept up the lifestyle that I had in my former life, I might not even be alive today. And if I were alive, I doubt that I would be as healthy as I am today.

For me, the Type 1 was a slap-up-side-the-head wake-up call. It very quickly convinced me that I was neither 10 feet tall nor bulletproof, and that I had but one body and would need to take care of it if I expected to live a life of both quality and quantity. When I was diagnosed in September, 1982, I was lucky enough to find a “progressive” doctor in Austin who understood my situation.

As a future attorney, I could not plan my day around my meals and insulin injections. The common routine at that time included a shot of mid-acting insulin in the morning, and when noon rolled around the insulin was there whether you liked it or not. You had to stop what you were doing and eat, regardless of whether you had the time to or not. I knew enough about the work schedule of young attorneys to know that would put a serious damper on my job prospects. So my doctor put me on a shot of Regular (Dinosaurs like me will remember that this was beef-pork mix, before Humulin and long before Humalog) just before a meal, and a shot of Ultra-Lente at night for a basal supply.

This way, I controlled at least this aspect of the Type 1, rather than it controlling me. When I graduated from law school and moved to San Antonio, I was lucky enough to hook up with another “progressive” doctor who I stuck with (and who stuck with me) until he retired in 2016. I continued with this 3-4 shots a day therapy for 25 years.

I thought that it just couldn’t get much better than that. My A1c tests were always good, and sometimes great, and my life was normal. (“Normal” may sound like damning with faint praise, but with Type 1, it’s actually the peak of performance.) And then I got an insulin pump. Being somewhat of an optimist, this confirmed my belief: “If you think things are good now, just wait, they’ll get better.” It’s been amazing just how much better the pump has made it for me.

So here’s where I am now:

1. I’m 60 years old, 35 years with Type 1, and 20 years older than my father when he died. Most people who know me are very surprised to find out that I have any health issues at all, much less Type 1 diabetes. Unless they happen to notice my pump, there are simply no other outward signs of any health issues. Staying healthy has not come easily – it has come from discipline. But that’s something that I’ve always needed more of anyway.

2. I’ve had the privilege of practicing law for 33 years, and it has not been a docile practice. I have been Board Certified in Personal Injury Trial Law for over 20 years, I’m the Laredo Chapter’s National Board Representative of the American Board of Trial Advocates, I’ve had the privilege of serving as the Chairman of the District 12 Grievance Committee for the State Bar of Texas and I’m a Sustaining Life Fellow of the Texas Bar Foundation.

3. I’ve had the energy and privilege to give back to my community. I’ve been the Treasurer and on the Board of Directors of the Boys and Girls Club of Alice, Texas, for 10 years, I’ve served in various capacities (including Chairman) on various committees and subcommittees of the Coastal Bend Council of Governments and I’ve run for political office twice. (Not quite fast enough either time, but the experience was well worth the effort – even though I lost.)

4. I regularly compete in triathlons and running events, and I enjoy Cross-Fit. I was originally just a runner. But although the Type 1 doesn’t slow me down much, the knees and hips do. I took up triathlons so I could swim and bike as much as possible to minimize the running. And within my age group at least, I’m pretty good.

5. I play guitar and sing, everywhere from my living room to churches to beer joints. The music comes from a life filled with joy, happiness and endless blessings.

6. And most importantly, I’m still married to my high school sweetheart. There have definitely been times when I’ve felt rage for the medical hand that I was dealt. And in 40 years of marriage there have been times when that anger has caused me to hurt the one I love the most. But I only have to look around me to realize that my Type 1 has been a blessing, and not a death sentence, and my anger quickly subsides.

Type 1 is nothing but a situation that anyone can meet, and beat, with some changes in lifestyle – changes that even people without diabetes should make. And so I don’t curse my fate. But for the accident of my birth in 1957, and not in 1857, I have therapies available to cope with the Type 1 and prevent it from negatively affecting my life. If I had been born in 1857, I would not have seen my 26th birthday, I would not have my two wildly-successful children, and I would not have had 36 of my 40 years of marriage. But I have gotten all of these things. Who could ask for more? So as we sit on the doorstep of the next medical miracle – transplant therapy – I am again convinced: “If you think things are good now, just wait, they’ll get better.”

Read Making it Peace with It – A Spouse’s Story by J. Duran.

David Towler

David Towler was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at the age of 26. His father before him also had Type 1 diabetes. He is a practicing lawyer in Texas, a loving husband and father to two.