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RD Lawrence: From a diabetes "death sentence" to the Scottish unsung hero who changed how the disease is treated



MARTIN SHANNON looks back on the career of Aberdonian, RD Lawrence, who transformed the treatment of people with diabetes.

He may not be a household name, but thousands of people owe him great gratitude for having changed the care of diabetics.

Dr. Robert Daniel Lawrence, "Robin" to Family and Friends, was an aspiring surgeon at King's College Hospital in London when he was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes at the age of 28.

He tried to control his diabetes with a strict diet, but his health deteriorated over the next three years and he should not survive.

However, his life was saved by a major medical breakthrough: the discovery of insulin.

Fortunately, RD Lawrence spent the rest of his long, productive career improving the care and treatment of others with diabetes, sharing hard-won empathy and understanding.

Angela Mitchell, Director of Diabetes Scotland, said: "RD Lawrence is considered to be one of the most influential figures in the history of diabetes care in this country, having been a charismatic personality dedicated to meeting the challenges of her life with Type 1

diabetes It was Lawrence who made the idea we take for granted today to improve the treatment of people with diabetes dependent on a close, continuous partnership between clinicians and patients.

"His book The Diabetic Life – which ran in 14 editions and several translations – provided practical and accessible advice on how to control diabetes with diet and insulin Lawrence's convincing but naturally cheerful and positive attitude encouraged his patients and his life a lot remains an inspiration for people living with diabetes. "

RD Lawrence was born on November 18, 1892 in Aberdeen. He attended Aberdeen Grammar School – coincidentally the same school attended by insulin discoverer JJR MacLeod – before studying medicine at Aberdeen University, where he earned a glittering career as a gold medalist in anatomy, clinical medicine and surgery and outstanding in sports.

Lawrence's seemingly enchanted life, however, was destroyed by the First World War, which cost the lives of many close friends and fellow students.

After graduation, he worked for the Royal Army Medical Corps in India before assuming the position of home surgeon at the Accident Department of King's College Hospital in London. While practicing his abilities on a corpse, unfortunately, a bone splinter flew into his right eye and the resulting infection left him with permanently impaired eyesight, which ended his career as a surgeon. Shortly thereafter, Lawrence was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, which was considered a death sentence.

He initially controlled his diabetes with a strict diet, but his health continued to deteriorate and, believing that he had only a short time to live, Lawrence moved to the warmer climate zone of Florence, Italy and set up there in practice on. His diabetes worsened after a bronchitis attack, and early death seemed inevitable.
However, coincidentally, Lawrence's disease coincided with the discovery and isolation of insulin by Banting, Best, Collip, and Macleod in Toronto, Canada, in 1922.

Deliveries began to reach the UK and in May 1923 a colleague at King's College Hospital Lawrence wired the message: "I have insulin – it works – come back quickly".

Lawrence returned to London – weak and hampered with diabetes-related complications – more in hope than in anticipation.

Afterwards, he spent two months in the hospital receiving regular insulin injections, which gave him robust health and vitality. It must have been like a miracle and gave Lawrence a second chance at life, which he seized with characteristic energy and enthusiasm.

He became a senior physician and the driving force behind the founding and subsequent success of one of the earliest and largest diabetic clinics in the UK at King's College Hospital, and dedicated the rest of his life to improving the care and well-being of people Diabetes.

Lawrence wrote the diabetic life and diabetic ABC that helped demystify the treatment of diabetes for physicians and patients. He has published widely on all aspects of diabetes and its management and has produced about 106 articles, including important publications on the treatment of diabetic coma, the treatment of diabetes and tuberculosis, and on prenatal care.

Prior to his appointment, Lawrence recognized the importance of patient engagement for research, education and welfare. With his Type 2 diabetes patient, the famous author and scientist H.G. Wells, Lawrence co-founded the Diabetic Association in 1934, the first patient-centered association founded in the UK and now known as Diabetes UK. Lawrence died on 27 August 1968 at the age of 76 years.

Angela Mitchell, Director of Diabetes Scotland, said: "It's been 25 years that Diabetes UK opened an office in Glasgow, but the Scottish influence on the charity goes back to being founded in 1934. Diabetes UK is the most enduring Legacy of RD Lawrence Supporting people living with this disease, advocating for better care, and funding vital research towards a world where diabetes can not do any harm. "


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