Mike Halle

Virta Health
Mike (Nick Oza for Rock Health)

Looking forward to old age

by Mollie McDowell

At the young age of 52, Mike Halle had not felt sensation in his feet for 12 years. After living with type 2 diabetes for over three decades, he was growing ever more resistant to the insulin keeping him alive, and trying to come to terms with having a few good years of life left.

Despite being a very diligent patient, he dreaded each visit to his endocrinologist. “You see your numbers increasing, your neuropathy is worse, you must increase your medications. It’s doomsday. I felt helpless—I just tried not to be depressed about it.” The lack of limb sensation is a common complication of diabetes known as neuropathy that leads to broken limbs, foot ulcers, and amputations. Diabetes is not an isolated condition—like many diseases, patients experience a host of other problems. In Mike's case, his triglyceride and cholesterol levels were very high and the lack of feeling in his limbs meant completing many daily activities was difficult.

"Mike's medications cost roughly $5,000 each month"

Mike’s story is unfortunately common for people living with diabetes, a disease that gets worse as the years go by—even with good management. Beyond the mental and physical toll, the costs are exorbitant. Mike’s medications, which include insulin, a stabilizer, and a pill to regulate his blood sugar levels cost roughly $5,000 each month. "The expenses for standard diabetes care are unreal," he says.

"When I found Virta, I had just gotten a delivery for new insulin and my doctor was discussing putting me on something 5x more concentrated," Mike remembers. (Nick Oza for Rock Health)

Last year, Mike’s family suffered the sudden and devastating loss of his sister-in-law Nancy.His brother Matthew couldn’t bear the thought of losing Mike too. The brothers, born nearly one year apart on Christmas and New Year's Eve, live three doors down from each other, and have been inseparable for their 51 years of life together. ”We’re a bit of Irish twins,” Mike says. After his wife's death, Matthew pleaded with Mike to "do more" to get better. "Please don't leave me here alone," he told him. "But Mike reflects, 'There was no way to control it—I felt so helpless. I could not stop the progression of my disease."

A year ago, Matthew heard about a company helping people with diabetes manage the disease. He insisted that Mike contact them. Matthew remembers, "It was not a yes or no decision." Both brothers work in healthcare and Mike admits he was skeptical—“I never knew there was an alternative to medicine to manage this disease.” He contacted them soon after.

Matt with his brother Mike. The brothers live three doors down from each other. (Nick Oza for Rock Health)

The company, called Virta Health, offers a clinically-studied treatment to safely and sustainably reverse type 2 diabetes. Its technology platform is built on decades of research on human metabolic disorders, new developments in epigenetics and genomics, and advances in mobile technology. To start, prospective patients enroll in the Virta Clinic, where they are assigned to an expert clinical team that delivers care safely and effectively. That’s where Virta’s unique role comes in.

Four months after working with the company, Mike went off almost all of his insulin under the advice of his Virta physician and is looking forward to a normal lifespan—getting decades of his life back. Mike’s blood glucose levels (measured by HbA1c) have dropped significantly, something his doctors are very pleased with. (A higher HbA1C raises the risk of diabetic complications.) Mike is even gaining sensation back in his limbs. He saw a striking drop in his cholesterol levels and triglycerides also dropped dramatically to less than one-third of their previous levels.

“Everyone was asking, ‘Where’s your blue bag?’ which I used to carry around my insulin and ice pack. They were so used to seeing me with it—nobody thought it was possible.”

Mike is looking forward to "getting decades of his life back." (Nick Oza for Rock Health)
(Nick Oza for Rock Health)
“94% of study patients reduced or eliminated their need for insulin”

Virta provides patients continuous, 24x7 access to a dedicated health coach and physician via an intuitive mobile application. Using the app, patients enter health markers—weight, blood pressure, diet, glucose levels, etc—that enable Virta clinicians to make informed decisions on patient care. The mobile experience also contains resources to help patients navigate their individualized treatment plan, including personalized weekly feedback, curated food guides, and an easy-to-follow educational curriculum.

Virta’s solution is not a magical cure-all. Rather, it guides people with diabetes through a challenging regimen that many people find difficult to maintain on their own. Their ongoing and future studies will demonstrate the ultimate success of Virta and the impact of its service across a broad population of diabetes patients. That said, Virta’s existing peer-reviewed outcomes, including their recently-released one-year results, are promising and we laud their ongoing commitment to pursuing impactful results with scientific rigor; an approach a role model for digital health. Science must lead the way in healthcare.

In Virta’s one-year results (of their five-year study), 94% of study patients reduced or eliminated their need for insulin and 60% of patients reversed their type 2 diabetes. Patients also reduced their HbA1C levels an average of 1.3% and lost an average of 30 pounds. Virta’s platform can save payers up to $10K for each patient in the first 24 months. Patients who join Virta through one of Virta’s employer or insurance partners receive treatment as a fully-covered benefit. Michael’s monthly costs for his diabetes medicine have dropped from “over $5K to around $20.”

Mike has restored feeling in his hands, and after 12 years of not feeling his feet, occassionally gets "a promising ping of pain in them."(Nick Oza for Rock Health)

Mike’s Virta physicians learned that his body handles carbohydrates "about as poorly as possible." In other words, he's genetically predisposed to diabetes. This also explains his concurrent health problems. For one, his cell receptors can’t read or consume insulin—which is why increasing his insulin dosage wasn't working.

"Mike is already halfway to shedding the 100 pounds he needs to lose"

Mike's coach Catherine is "amazing," he says. For the longest time, he couldn’t get his fasting number down. Catherine, a registered dietitian, was able to monitor this and asked Mike for details about his eating schedule. Together they discovered his nighttime portion control was off. She suggested he modify his intake in the middle of the day—in his case, adding a bit of fat—which made him less hungry at night and brought his levels into the normal range.

"When you can’t feel your feet, you develop foot ulcers and many broken bones—so it’s pretty hard to do a lot of the exercise others do," Mike explains." One aspect of Mike's new life that he's most excited about is his ability to even think about exercise—which "seemed so hopeless to do before." He works with a physical therapist and swims multiple times a week—and is halfway to shedding the 100 pounds he needs to lose.

“It’s definitely changed my life.” Mike's brother Matthew (or ‘Mr. Health’ as their family calls him) “keeps saying how much hope he has,” Mike says. “Now we have control over my future.”

To learn more about Virta Health, visit their website.

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