The first Australian to receive insulin in 1922 12 May 2021 Phyllis Lush (née Adams) was the first Australian to receive insulin – her son talks about how it saved and changed her life in the 1920’s. In 1922, five-year-old Phyllis Adams became the first Australian to receive life-saving insulin. Waiting on the Sydney Pier, frail and weighing just 10-kilograms, she was injected with insulin, a moment that would change her life forever. Her father had been corresponding with scientists Frederick Banting and Charles Best who were working on a major discovery in Canada that they hoped would help people dying from diabetes. That discovery was insulin. Banting urged the Lush family to keep Phyllis alive as they had begun testing their insulin discovery on dogs. Surviving off a teaspoon of peanut butter, a lettuce leaf and a glass of junket a day for eight months, she was just skin and bones when the insulin arrived by ship from Vancouver. Phyllis’s father met the P&O ship in the middle of Sydney Harbour where he collected the insulin and rushed back to the wharf where a weak Phyllis was waiting at the pier. “The minute she had the insulin at the wharf, they gave her half a Sao biscuit which she recalled as one of her greatest meals; she never forgot it,” said her son, Studley Lush. Phyllis’ parents were told even with insulin she might only live until she was nine. But she exceeded all expectations. Her longevity living with diabetes made the Guinness Book of Records – no one had received insulin longer than Phyllis. In 1998, she passed away at the age of 81, having spent 76-years of her life using insulin. Childhood was particularly difficult for Phyllis, regular injections and a strict diet had to be followed. “She would come home from school for lunch every day, her food had to be weighed. Birthday parties were also tough, her parents would bring her home when the feast was on so she couldn’t eat any of the sweets and she would go back once the food had been eaten,” he said. Phyllis once recalled to a newspaper that at the age of 14 she was smaller than her sister who was five years younger. By the age of 17 she had returned to a normal height and weight after a growth spurt and good diet. Phyllis met and married medical officer Studley Woolcott Lush in 1940 and settled into Sydney life with their young son also named Studley. Her husband, Dr Lush was a radiologist, but he also became an expert on his wife’s diabetes and was attentive to changes in management and diet. “Although my father wasn’t an endocrinologist, he knew a lot about diabetes. Mum had no idea. Every morning she would do a urine test and yell out what colour it was, and Dad would yell back what units of insulin she needed,” Studley said. “It was common to see mum inject insulin, sometimes through her clothes if we were out in public. Living with diabetes was just normal to us.” Studley welcomed triplets in his twenties and forged successful careers in the air force and business. But there were challenges ahead. When he turned 50, he developed a terrible thirst, his vision deteriorated and he experienced problems with his feet. He was soon diagnosed with type 1 diabetes just like his mum. “So, I’ve been on insulin ever since. I take a lot of insulin, about five injections a day. I suffer badly from diabetic peripheral neuropathy.” Neuropathy is a condition in which the nerves have become damaged reducing sensation in the feet and hands. Studley now lives a quiet life in the New South Wales Southern Highlands town of Bowral, working as an antique dealer. He has fond memories of his mum and her health achievements. “My mum loved life, her greatest wish on earth was to find a cure for diabetes. I’m 74 now and I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime, but I hope it does for the younger generation.” While Phyllis lived until she was 81, her health deteriorated in her later years and she lost her vision. “She was in a nursing home in the end, she couldn’t see by that time, but she could always tell when I was approaching. She would say ‘here comes my son.’ It was amazing.” Phyllis was awarded two Kellion Victory Medals from Diabetes Australia for living with diabetes for 50 and 60 years. There was no medal for someone who had lived with the disease for more than 70 years, so for her 75th birthday, Diabetes Australia honoured her with a special function.