The Quest for a Cure: Lisa Altman’s personal mission to take down T1D
Long before her first child was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, Lisa Altman was very familiar with it. Her husband, former Qualcomm exec Steve Altman, has a strong family history of the disease, also known as insulin-dependent diabetes “Steve’s father has had type 1 since he was four, and Steve’s brother has had it since he was 12,” says Lisa. Simply waiting to see if T1D would affect their three children wasn’t an option; she started having them tested for antibodies when they were very young.
Son Andy, now 26 and co-founder (with his father) of a startup mobile app called GigTown, never tested positive for antibodies until he diagnosed himself at 13. He picked diabetes for a school assignment, and as he ran down the list of symptoms, he checked yes on too many to ignore.
Though middle daughter Jessica hasn’t developed T1D, youngest daughter Lindsay has. Since the kids were on the older side at diagnosis, Lisa mostly gave them autonomy when it came to dealing with their disease, which requires multiple injections of insulin each day since the pancreas no longer produces it. “Predicting your blood glucose level is like a guessing game,” says Lisa. “There’s really no getting it ‘in control.’ To determine insulin dosages you constantly have to consider exactly how much you ate and how much exercise you’ve had, how stressed out you are, is there adrenaline running through your system?”
While the children have both experienced their own private struggles with T1D, they have an especially strong family support system. “When Andy was diagnosed, I told him at the hospital that I might not be able to make it go away, but that I always would try to find the latest and greatest things for him,” says Lisa.
She became a self-professed “research groupie,” signing her son up for a study of newly diagnosed patients at UCSF. She mentored other families about the disease. And she and her husband became deeply involved with JDRF. (The organization is moving away from its original moniker, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, as more people are diagnosed with T1D later in life.)
Two years ago, Lisa, long active in the local JDRF chapter, joined the nonprofit’s international board of directors, with her focus on the organization’s research committee. Steve sits on the board of two local companies doing research that has the potential to improve the lives of many with diabetes. Decom produces continuous glucose monitors, and ViaCyte may be on the brink of a cellular-level encapsulation treatment for T1D that’s the next best thing to a cure. And the philanthropic couple is celebrating the opening of the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute at UC San Diego. The duo donated $10 million to the cutting-edge center, which will search for cures for diabetes, among countless other diseases.
While JDRF throws an annual black-tie gala — this year’s Promise Ball, “Mission: Possible,” takes place April 9 at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront — Lisa also organizes an invite-only concert called Rock the Cure. The yearly event, which Lisa started in 2008 with Stacey Valencia and Dana Kiffman, has included performances by Pat Benatar, Hall & Oates, Steve Miller Band, and more. This year’s headliner will be Heart. Tickets are among the most coveted in town, and last year the event raised more than $900,000 for critical T1D research.
“My kids have normal lives,” Lisa says. “But I want their quality of life to be better.” sd.jdrf.org AnnaMaria Stephens
Photo by Bob Stefanko