‘How mum defied the doctors – and diabetes – to live to 94’

Eve Wheeler, in her 90s, with granddaughter Lucy and her great grand children, after moving into her own flat in London after winning her battle with diabetes.
Eve Wheeler, in her 90s, with granddaughter Lucy and her great grand children, after moving into her own flat in London after winning her battle with diabetes.

Faced with the effects of two decades of diabetes, former Blackpool photographer Eve Wheeler made her peace with the idea of dying when she was in her 80s.

But with help from her daughter Christine – and a change of diet – Eve, who ran Studio D Photography with her husband Dave, beat the condition and went on to live to the age of 94.

Eve Wheeler, who ran Studio D Photography in Blackpool, died at the age of 94

Eve Wheeler, who ran Studio D Photography in Blackpool, died at the age of 94

This month The Gazette reported how the talented photographer had been one of the first to be invited to Buckingham Palace during her career before her death earlier this year.

In her own words, daughter Christine, describes how her Mum defied doctors’ predictions to squeeze an extra decade out of life.

In 2003, I had a conversation with an interesting gentleman who had come to live next door to my mother, Eve Wheeler, then in her 80s.

Blackpool is famous for its neighbourliness and over the garden wall, I chatted to this gentleman about mum’s long-term type 2 diabetes, explaining that I was conducting an experiment to see if excluding sugar from her diet – but not fat – would reduce her energy peaks and troughs.

At this point, the neighbour revealed he had just been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. Of itself, this would not be unusual; the gentleman was on the point of retirement and late-onset diabetes is unfortunately all too common in this age group. What was a surprise was the fact that I was speaking to a consultant from the diabetic unit at the local hospital.

“You shouldn’t experiment on your own mother”, cautioned this specialist with a laugh.

“What will you do?” I asked. “Oh, I’m not going to give up the good things in life”, said he cheerfully, “I shall use an insulin pump, eat what I like and control my blood glucose levels.”

Eventually, I was able to follow through with my ‘experiment’ – and it worked. Mum recovered completely from the diabetes that had taken away so much of her sight, induced painful neuropathy in her feet and left her prone to diabetic comas. She went on to enjoy many years of diabetes-free – and medication-free – existence, saw her grandchildren marry and held her great grandchildren. In a small way, she made medical history. This is how it happened:

One day, when I was back at my home in Hertfordshire, a particularly dangerous diabetic coma found Mum admitted as an emergency to Blackpool Victoria Hospital. The depressing medical advice was that independent living was out of the question – she was just too poorly.

Mum had planned to come to live with me when she was in need of care and so, with the supply of snacks and glucose tablets that diabetics need to keep close by, we packed up a life-time of memories and headed south.

Now that Mum was with me, I could prepare her meals and at least make sure she was getting nutritious food. I could also exclude sugar, easy to do because there was none in the house. My children had flown the nest and I gave up years ago.

Quite quickly, after about two weeks without refined carbohydrates and, crucially, without sugar, the diabetic comas and lethargy ceased.

Amazingly, Mum’s blood glucose levels came down from their frighteningly high peaks and she no longer felt faint and in need of snacks between meals. Soon we were also able to abandon strict meal-times and live like normal people.

The GP decided to reduced Mum’s insulin dose. I recorded her blood glucose levels daily and watched them level out as she gained strength, energy and a healthy appetite.

One morning, being an independent minded lady, Mum said that she had decided to stop injecting insulin because she thought she didn’t need it.

This was the scary part of the experiment – as a biologist, I had read that insulin-dependent diabetics no longer make their own insulin. So stopping insulin injections now might permit blood glucose to climb to a level that would further damage eyesight, kidney function and perhaps precipitate a stroke.

Would I have taken the risk at this point? Probably not. But Mum did. She just stopped her daily injections. We waited. Nothing happened.

After about a week, still insulin free, Mum was vigorously washing up, helping to build the annual bonfire - and shopping for fashionably high-heeled shoes, her feet now pain-free.

It was time to confront the GP with our miracle cure. He promptly cancelled all Mum’s prescribed medications, including her blood pressure tablets – because, he stated definitively, ‘your blood pressure is normal’.

She decided to buy a flat and live independently again, this time in South London near to my sister and brother and their families.

My sister, Gaye, continued to provide home-cooking, kept up the no-sugar regime and with patience and loving care coaxed our Mum towards her 94th year, she enjoyed her last Christmas with my brother’s family.

On January 16, my nephew, Joe, held his beloved Grandmother in his arms as she passed peacefully away.

Here are the kind words of John Brook, Mum’s long-time accountant, now retired: “I have nothing but warm remembrances of her. She was a strong woman with great character. She along with others of her generation represented the true spirit of Blackpool.”