Ken Yoder was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he wasn’t quite three years old. His parents noticed he was drinking and urinating a lot, so they took him to the doctor, who referred them to a specialist in Indianapolis.
Dr. John Warvel was not only a specialist in endocrinology: he pioneered the use of insulin in America soon after Eli Lilly became the first mass producers of the drug in 1923. Dr. Warvel taught Ken’s parents (and later Ken) the discipline of managing diabetes. With a gram scale, Ken’s mother learned to weigh carbohydrates, fats and protein. She also learned to cook without sugar.
“When I was a child, artificial sweeteners were very concentrated. People didn’t know how to cook with them, so recipes turned out either bittersweet or not sweet enough,” said Ken. “When my mom wanted to make a small tart cherry pie for me, I told her to make it without any artificial sweetener. When I tasted it, I had to try hard not to pucker up, it was so sour. But over time, my taste buds got used to eating it and other desserts prepared without sugar. It’s just a matter of getting used to something.”
When he was in his early twenties, Ken realized that many people with type 1 diabetes didn’t live into old age. Concerned about this, he developed coping mechanisms like spreadsheets to record his blood sugars so he could compare his readings by meals, time of day, days of the week and months. He still counts carbohydrates, even when he’s eating out.
“I consider sugar a toxin, even though I know it’s not true. I avoid it like the plague,” Ken said. Ken’s definition of sugar isn’t limited to the FDA’s definition of sugar, which includes only sugar derived from cane or beets; Ken avoids also the 61 types of man-made sugars. He’s also never smoked or drank alcohol.
There’s no denying that Ken’s approach has worked well for him. At 78 years old, he’s gone to the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston twice to do a day’s worth of blood work, scans and interviews to study why he’s doing so well. In 2023, he was awarded a medal from the center acknowledging his 75 years of living with diabetes.
Ken appreciates how Dr. Warvel set the bar high for him and his other patients. He remembers the doctor telling his mother, “Don’t believe everything every other diabetes doctor will tell you.” Over the years, Ken has heard from other friends and relatives about physicians who had a more relaxed approach to managing diabetes. And it concerns him. Even with his continuous glucose monitor, he knows how challenging it can be to keep his blood sugar within range.
“For years, I walked two miles a day, but I had to give it up because my blood sugar takes a dive, even when I was only walking a mile. I am a low insulin user for a person with type 1 diabetes, but my doctor thinks I’m becoming more insulin sensitive with age,” Ken said. “I miss walking, but I can’t because of my blood sugar.”
Ken sees Dr. Lily Kwatampora at Goshen Physicians Endocrinology. She’s one of the few specialists he’s had who has the high standards of Dr. Warvel. “When I ask a question, she’ll provide a verbal essay with an opening, a middle and a closing that I understand. Every time. She broadens the question. She’s excellent.”
Four mornings a week, Ken fixes mechanical clocks at The Depot MCC Thrift Shop, where they are sold to support the local and global relief, development and peace projects of Mennonite Central Committee.
“It’s social, moderately active and keeps me out of my wife’s hair. I don’t get paid a dime,” Ken said. “But I like it better than any job I’ve ever had.”
For diabetes education or to meet with Dr. Lily Kwatampora, you will need a referral from your primary care provider. They can reach Goshen Physicians Endocrinology at (574) 537-1221, weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The office is located at 2012 S. Main St, Ste. C, Goshen. Medicare and most health insurance plans consider diabetes self-management training a covered benefit.
Dr. Lily Kwatampora with Ken Yoder wearing his medal from Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston that acknowledges his 75 years of living with diabetes.