For Clarence Haynes, age is just a number and not a state of mind.
The 92-year-old is full of energy and very busy these days even though his wife, who was diagnosed with dementia several years ago, suffered a stroke last month.
He spends part of the day on his computer, communicating with friends and people worldwide who suffer from diabetes, a disease he was diagnosed with 33 years ago.
The early evenings are reserved for dinner with his wife of 63 years, Lynne, at the Wesburn Manor long-term care facility in South Etobicoke where he has been a resident for the past year. He’s on the third floor while his wife, who has been in the facility for the past three years, is a level below.
“I have dinner with her every evening,” said Haynes who is just a few months younger than his wife. “We used to play scrabble and watch the news before she got the stroke. She’s not so well now, so she goes to bed early. Most of the residents retire for the night early too, but I go to my computer and I am there until around midnight.”
Haynes, who has close to 230 friends on a diabetes social network site, said he learned to use the computer three years ago and he’s found it to be a very useful technological tool in promoting the Blue Rose Diabetes Foundation of Canada he co-founded with fellow diabetic and crooner Jim Cormier who provides one-man entertainment shows at nursing homes across the Greater Toronto Area.
They recently launched their website, www.bluerosediabetesfoundation.com. Haynes said the name “blue rose” was chosen because in some cultures, it signifies attaining the impossible.
“I am a computer rookie and I feel like a kid with a toy that has found a way to share my experiences and wisdom with new members of this website,” said the insulin-dependent Haynes. “I ask them what they need to improve their diabetes prevention and awareness program and how much they know about the disease. I am a student of the oldest university in the world which is the University of Hard Knocks where there is no graduation and you never complete your apprenticeship. I need to keep growing and add years to my life and life to my years.”
The nonagenarian’s encounter with diabetes began in 1977 on a family trip to Nantucket in Massachusetts.
“I had developed a close relationship with a gentleman who rode the train when I worked as a railway porter in Canada, and me and my wife would go there every year to spend two weeks,” Haynes, who was born in Montreal, said. “It was while on a trip there that we over-nighted in Montreal before heading out by car on the final leg of the journey to the U.S. that I began to feel sick. I managed to make it to our destination despite the fact that I drove for the last half hour with double vision.
“As soon as we got there, my wife telephoned our family doctor telling him that something was wrong with me. She described some of the symptoms and the doctor told her to rush me to the nearest emergency department…When I got there, they told me it was a miracle that I made it alive to the hospital because my glucose level was 880.”
Normal glucose levels fall between 70 and 150 mg.
When Haynes was informed that he would be a diabetic for the rest of his life, he did not sag with the disturbing news. Instead, he soaked in the medical practitioner’s ground rules and has been following them for more than three decades.
“I thirst for knowledge so as soon as I got back to Toronto after cutting short our vacation, I tried to learn as much as possible about the disease,” said Haynes who has devoted the last three decades of his life to diabetes education.
His interest was further heightened after meeting Edward Banting, the nephew of University of Toronto lecturer Dr. Frederick Banting who, along with then medical student Dr. Charles Best, discovered insulin which is a hormone that’s central to regulating the energy and glucose metabolism in the body.
Banting, who was knighted by King George V, sold his patent for $1 because he wanted the medicine to be affordable.
“Just imagine, I was able to visit the property (Banting lived in Alliston before dying in a plane crash near Musgrave Harbour in Newfoundland in 1941) of the man that invented the medicine that’s responsible for keeping me and so many others alive,” said Haynes.
In 1978, Haynes teamed up with the late Sonny Cohen to start a global diabetes information service. They staged their first health fair later that year at Sherway Gardens Shopping Mall, with Haynes distributing almost 25,000 brochures related to diabetes and its complications.
“We had a community health cable show called Health, Here and Now; we set up the first ethnic diabetes group at Villa Colombo in Toronto and we did health fairs at the CNE for almost a decade,” he said. “I estimate we did about 160 health fairs in shopping malls from Oshawa to Bracebridge and Stoney Creek and everywhere in between. Overall, I have reached out to close to 40,000 and counting who have the disease. I certainly consider myself a role model in this respect.”
Whenever he gets the opportunity, Haynes tells diabetics to surround themselves with a diabetic specialist, a dietician, social worker, podiatrist and pharmacist.
“I preach that all the time because those specialists are crucial to the existence of those suffering from the disease,” he said.
He also always advocates the use of the high-quality personalized MedicAlert bracelet – he has worn one since he was diagnosed — that’s recognized by emergency responders around the world.
Haynes can be contacted at email@example.com.