Ed Rabinowitz profiles Henry Anhalt, chief medical officer of T1D Exchange, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching cures for type 1 diabetes.
Henry Anhalt, DO, FACOP, FACE, is a New Yorker through and through. The chief medical officer of T1D Exchange, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching cures for type 1 diabetes, was born and raised in Brooklyn, a place for which he has “a tremendous affinity.”
He also has a tremendous affinity for popcorn.
“That stuff is addicting,” Anhalt says. “I’ll go to the movies just for the popcorn. It brings me tremendous comfort. And I get sad when I get to the bottom (of the bucket) and there are all those kernels. But fortunately, there’s always more popcorn.”
And fortunately, Anhalt always had an affinity for medicine, regularly verbalizing to his parents his desire to become a physician.
“I remember that pharmaceutical companies had models of areas of the human body that were treated by drugs they manufactured,” he says. “I remember ordering tons of models. I was absolutely fascinated by the structure and the function of the body.”
That fascination has never waned.
Drawn to diabetes
Anhalt became interested in endocrinology during his residency, but it was after he returned to New York following his fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at Stanford University that he found himself lured into the world of pediatric diabetes.
“When I came back from my training and started working in New York, I realized that where I worked, it was a referral center … we saw a lot of diabetes,” Anhalt says. “But nobody really wanted to care for the children with diabetes, because no one got better.”
Anhalt wanted to make certain they got better. When new technology such as insulin pumps and continuous glucose monitors became available, few physicians adopted them. Anhalt, however, believed the technology could provide “something additional in our toolbox” that could be used to improve the lives of children living with diabetes.
But that mindset, that true dedication to his patients, didn’t happen by magic. Anhalt recalls initially being torn between a “lack of satisfaction” in caring for children with diabetes and an appreciation for the daily stress that people with type 1 diabetes live with. He found himself questioning his role as a physician.
“Is my role to judge them and to wave the finger at them and say, ‘You know, you’re not doing well. And this is a disease that's going to drag you down,’ without offering the patients any solutions?” Anhalt recalls asking himself.
The answer, of course, was no. And that’s when Anhalt found what he calls his sweet spot: To be supportive as a physician, listening and being empathetic. Today he regularly tracks his patients’ glucose levels using an app on his phone. He has even phoned his patients in the middle of the night when he’s been notified that they’ve experienced a significant drop in blood sugar.
“Having the ability to actually see those numbers in real time and provide feedback, and them knowing that I’m watching, I think probably provides a therapeutic dimension that is lost on many other clinicians.”
Going to camp
Two years ago Anhalt became president of the board of Camp Nejeda, which is dedicated to taking care of children with type 1 diabetes. The camp was founded in 1958 by a group of physicians who wanted children with diabetes to have a summer camp experience.
Anhalt recalls being invited for a week to help watch over the children and provide advice on insulin dosing.
“I was struck by the normalcy of what these kids were experiencing,” Anhalt says. “The normalcy that existed within the context of having nurses, and doctors, and a healthcare center, and people’s fingers being pricked, and insulin dosing being given before and after meals, and insulin pumps, and technology, and on, and on, and on … that normalcy was overwhelming.”
It also brought him back summer after summer, and ultimately he was asked to join the board. He spends “an enormous amount of time” knocking on doors of friends, family and others who, if they stand still long enough, will hear him talk about the importance of raising money to support and keep the camp open.
“Each summer we’re blessed to take care of more than 500 children with diabetes,” Anhalt says. “The idea that kids with diabetes, who maybe have never met another child with type 1 diabetes in their schools or in their neighborhoods, could now be with a hundred other children in their age group and experience together and learn from one another, and support one another, and have lifelong relationships that extend beyond camp is, for me, one of the most amazing experiences.”
Moved to tears
Anhalt loves to travel, and says he has been fortunate to have been to many places. So many that he keeps a pegboard with tiny pins indicating all the places he’s been. Perhaps the most interesting, he says, was visiting the Vatican.
“I spent Passover at the Vatican,” Anhalt says. “And I’m an observant Jew, so finding Kosher food in the Vatican was, I thought, going to be challenging. But the Vatican was incredibly accommodating. All of my needs for Passover observance were met.”
But that wasn’t the most interesting, or moving, part of the trip. Rather—in addition to having an audience with the Pope and Vice President Joe Biden—it was hearing The Edge, a guitarist from U2, play in the Pristine Chapel.
“Being in the Pristine Chapel hearing The Edge play Leonard Cohen’s If It Be You Will, which brought me to tears by the way, was perhaps one of the most amazing places that I’ve been to that I can remember,” Anhalt admits.
Making a difference
Anhalt believes he has a unique role with a unique organization, giving him an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of people living with type 1 diabetes.
“What I have, and what the T1D Exchange has, is insights to what people who are living with the disease share on a daily basis,” Anhalt says. “Those insights present for me unique opportunities to develop research to try to address some of the needs that patients have. And even though I might not have a monumental transformative therapy to offer to patients, if I can make small steps every single day, which I do see happening now in this job, it is for me, one of the greatest sources of satisfaction.”