The doctors who said James W. Quander wouldn't live beyond his 10th birthday died long ago.
The one who predicted that he couldn't have children might be surprised by his four children, 11 grandchildren and great-grandson.
The ones who equated juvenile diabetes with mental instability and contagious diseases, who blocked him from going to medical school to save room for "an able-bodied man," clearly underestimated the determined Quander. "I know what it is to be young and feel like an abnormality," he said in 1999. "At 7 or 8, they told me I'd be impotent. The only thing that I was born to do was die."
But instead of curling up and awaiting the inevitable, Quander lived his life, which turned out to be far longer and richer than anyone could have expected. He died Oct. 9 at age 86 of complications of the diabetes that dogged him all his life.
Quander, an African American who was educated in Washington's segregated schools, sold ice cream on street corners during the Depression and had two newspaper routes. He graduated from the District's Miners Teachers College with a degree in elementary education. A civil rights activist since the 1930s, he was one of a handful of young men chosen by his professors to apply for a professional position with the FBI, to prove that college-educated blacks could fill those jobs. The FBI hired none of them, but Quander worked for the Post Office and other federal agencies for 33 years.
He married a woman from Barbados. His children entered the fields of law, veterinary medicine, social work and environmental chemistry. And in retirement, Quander became one of the first 16 men in the United States to be ordained as a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.
He also followed a carefully controlled diet and began using insulin in 1925 when it was still rare and expensive. When his father's business failed during the Depression, someone in the family wrote to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt about the boy's condition. A reply came back almost immediately: The federal government would provide the insulin and medical supplies at no cost.
As it turned out, Quander lived longer with the disease than anyone else, said George King, a physician at Boston's Joslin Diabetes Center. Diagnosed at age 5, though he apparently had the disease two years earlier, Quander managed juvenile diabetes for 81 years. Fifteen people are known to have lived for more than 75 years with the disease, but most people have had much shorter lives.
"He's very, very lucky because they didn't start to give out insulin until 1924," King said. "Most juvenile diabetics died within six months. . . . As late as the 1970s and 1980s, half of the Type I diabetics died by the age of 50."
Diabetes, an inherited condition, is the leading cause of kidney failure, adult blindness and loss of limbs. Most of the 16 million diabetics in the United States are diagnosed as adults, with Type II diabetes, which means they can produce insulin but are unable to use it effectively. About 1 million Americans have Type I, or juvenile, diabetes, meaning they cannot make insulin in the pancreas and so must test their blood sugar several times a day and inject insulin into their bloodstream.
African Americans, who are more likely to have Type II diabetes than non-Hispanic whites, are much less likely to have juvenile diabetes, King said.
Quander's family is one of the nation's oldest African American families, and one of the largest in the Washington area, with an estimated 1,000 related members in Virginia, Maryland and the District.
The Quanders -- whose name is rendered as Quando or Amkwandoh in some branches of the family -- came to Maryland as slaves from Ghana sometime before the 1670s. Some were freed early on, while others remained enslaved. Several ancestors worked at Mount Vernon as George Washington's slaves. The Brooks, one branch of the Quanders, are the first African American family to have three Army generals in two generations. Others became school principals, physicians, bankers, dairy farmers and founders of sororities.
But it was Quander who in 1971 collected the Maryland and District branch of the family and began holding reunions. (The Virginia relatives had been having reunions since 1926.)
"My father considered it one of his main missions in life to cause the current and past separation in the Quander family to be resolved," said son Rohulamin Quander, an administrative law judge with the District government and Mayor Anthony A. Williams's agent for historic preservation.
In 1995, a common complication of diabetes resulted in Quander's right leg being amputated below the knee. The circulatory problems caused him pain, he lost his eyesight and he was increasingly restricted to a wheelchair. In 1999, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Rohulamin Quander wrote his father's life story. Its title borrows from the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem "Keep A-Pluggin' Away." If the book is published, the son said his father insisted that half the proceeds go to benefit juvenile diabetics.