Good living, strong mind key to Chatham-Kent man living 5 decades with diabetes

Good living and the power of the mind are what Walter Repple credits for being able to live with Type 1 diabetes for more than half a century.

Good living and the power of the mind are what Walter Repple credits for being able to live with Type 1 diabetes for more than half a century.

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The 91-year-old Chatham-Kent man was diagnosed with diabetes in the spring of 1971 at age 39.

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Repple, who immigrated to Canada from Germany in 1966, got his diagnosis while married with a young family.

“I had no idea, when you become a diabetic, how that would limit your life time or any information that would help me to move forward,” he said. “Nobody, at that time, thought I would live to 91.”

Fewer than 10 per cent of people have Type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune condition that makes a person dependent on insulin. Type 2 diabetes can result from lifestyle factors such as poor diet and lack of exercise, however, it also can be caused by certain environmental factors and genetic history.

Repple believes having good genes, thanks to growing up in Germany where he ate healthful, whole foods, has been a benefit.

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“There were no junk food stores,” he said. “You cooked your own stuff.”

Repple also continues to live a healthy lifestyle.

“If you have ever met a man in your life who did not smoke a single cigarette in his life, you’re speaking to him,” he said.

Repple added he never took drugs and drinks very little alcohol.

“You can live a long life with diabetes, especially if you take care of your diabetes,” said Alissa Howe-Poisson, clinical manager of chronic disease at the Diabetes Education Center in the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance.

Generally speaking, she said, it is said diabetes shortens your life by about 10 years.

“But good exercise and eating habits can extend your life by 10 years,” said Howe-Poisson.

Repple, a retired design engineer also credits learning about autogenetic training while living in Germany from one of the leading authorities on the subject, Dr. Klaus Thomas, for helping him manage the disease.

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Autogenetic training involves using a technique to teach your body to respond to verbal commands. Repple said he witnessed in the 1960s how his future brother-in-law applied autogenetic training to be able to live with asthma without any medication within six months.

“I am not overdoing it when I say, I have my doubts that I would still be talking to you today had it not been for autogenetic training,” Repple said.

He used autogenetic training to help deal with the fact he often experiences low blood sugar at night.

“That’s a greater danger than being high, because you can die in your sleep if it is too low” of his blood sugar, Repple said.

Repple said he planted a command in his mind to wake him up when his blood sugar goes too low.

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Despite waking up on his own to find his blood sugar was low, Repple said he was still skeptical so he began keeping track of how often this happened over a period of time.

He recorded himself waking up on 53 occasions between 2 am and 3 am to find his blood sugar was dangerously low and would “religiously” get out of bed to address it.

Howe-Poisson said a lot of progress has been made in research on how to manage Type 1 diabetes.

“In the last 10 years, for example, we’ve gone to the continuous glucose monitor.”

She said people can wear a monitor 24-hours a day liked to a cellphone app with an alarm that goes off if the blood sugar goes too low.

Age is catching up to Repple, who is in hospital after breaking his leg due to a fall. But, his spirits remain high as he enthusiastically shares details about his life as a systems design engineer, which included working 22 years at the former General Motors plant in London.

Repple said he hopes his story can encourage other people and help them find a way to improve their situation.

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