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When James Telfer was asked several years ago by his endocrinologist at St. Joseph’s Hospital for a loan of his creative design talents, he was happy to oblige. The request was for a special medal to be presented each year to patients with insulin-dependent diabetes who reach 50 years since their diagnosis.

As a long-time diabetes patient himself, James, a London design artist, understood how momentous it would be to reach half a century living with the condition, and how meaningful the medal would be to patients reaching the milestone.

James designed the medal, which has since been given out annually at St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s Diabetes Half Century Awards, and which celebrates patients for their contributions to diabetes care and education, for their commitment to their health, and as role models for others. In 2020, James was on the receiving end of the medal he crafted.

James, 62, was 12 when he was diagnosed. Immediately, his mother lay down the law and set the tone for how he would live the rest of his life. He was taught how to look after himself and what it would take to ensure a long, fulfilling future. As a result, he never felt limited in what he could do.

Summers at a camp for children with diabetes, where James would go on to become a counsellor, were also instrumental in shaping his approach to life with diabetes. A “mystical” place that not only immersed him in wilderness adventures, camp was also where “there was no bellyaching” about having diabetes and where he learned that knowledge was power when it came to managing his condition.

James would go on to become a design artist and a fearless traveller to far-flung corners of the globe where he collects works of art for his London home décor store, called Splash. He equates being a successful artist to being successful at managing diabetes.

“To do what I do you have to be awake and aware all the time. It’s the same with diabetes.”

James has participated in several key diabetes trials over the years that have helped to redefine care for people with type 1 diabetes. When asked to design the Diabetes Half Century Award medal, “it was something else I could contribute.”