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1st in Central Florida, 10-year-old sees success in new diabetic drug

(Left) Anderson Ata sits holding a basketball alongside his family, mother Jill Ata, father Joe Ata and little brother Lex. Last New Years the family went through a scare as Anderson woke at 3 a.m. unable to stop shivering and a large thirst for water. He was later diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Joe Mario Pedersen
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90.7 WMFE News
(Left) Anderson Ata sits holding a basketball alongside his mother Jill Ata, father Joe Ata and little brother Lex. Last New Years the family went through a scare as Anderson woke at 3 a.m. unable to stop shivering and a large thirst for water. He was later diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.

At 3 a.m. on New Year's Day, 10-year-old Anderson Ata began shivering uncontrollably. He had an insatiable thirst. His life was about to change. His parents, who work in the medical field, had a feeling they knew what these symptoms meant. Type 1 diabetes.

And yet, one year later he shows no symptoms, thanks to a new drug heralded as the first big milestone against diabetes in 100 years.

Type 1 diabetes is an incurable auto-immune disease, where the immune system attacks the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. If insulin isn't injected daily a patient could die. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but typically manifests in children and young adults. About 12% of Floridians have diabetes, according to the Florida Diabetes Advisory Council.

Anderson (right) and Lex Ata play basketball in the Family Church Windermere Campus' indoor court. Anderson practices basketball every day. His favorite players to watch are the Orlando Magic's Franz Wagner and San Francisco Golden State Warriors' Steph Curry.
Joe Mario Pedersen
/
90.7 WMFE News
Anderson (right) and Lex Ata play basketball in the Family Church Windermere Campus' indoor court. Anderson practices basketball every day. His favorite players to watch are the Orlando Magic's Franz Wagner and San Francisco Golden State Warriors' Steph Curry.

Anderson's parents, Joe and Jill Ata, were terrified that the disease would disrupt their son’s life during his formative years, monitoring his diet while constantly administering shots of insulin — a difficult task given Anderson's fear of needles.

"It once took five nurses to hold him down for a flu shot. So the prospect of having a diabetic son was maybe even more concerning than it would have otherwise been," Joe said.

Fast forward one year since Anderson's diagnosis. He plays basketball every day. He hangs out with his friends. Plays some soccer and loves eating food.

Something Anderson doesn’t do is check his blood glucose level throughout the day. Nor does he prick his finger, or inject multiple insulin shots, despite being a year into his diabetic diagnosis.

"The really beautiful thing is that he doesn't really know what it's like to be a full-blown diabetic," Joe said.

Anderson (right) dribbles a basketball in the Family Church Windermere Campus' indoor court. Anderson practices basketball every day. Thanks to Teplizumab, Anderson doesn't feel the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes. The medication is expected to stymie the symptoms for at least two years. The medication works best when diabetes is caught early on in its development.
Joe Mario Pedersen
/
90.7 WMFE News
Anderson (right) dribbles a basketball in the Family Church Windermere Campus' indoor court. Anderson practices basketball every day. Thanks to Teplizumab, Anderson doesn't feel the symptoms of Type 1 diabetes. The medication is expected to stymie the symptoms for at least two years. The medication works best when diabetes is caught early on in its development.

Last January, Anderson was given Teplizumab – a new drug researchers say is the first big milestone in treating diabetes since the creation of insulin over 100 years ago.

"We don't have any other alternative medications. So Teplizumab is the first disease-modifying medication for Type 1 diabetes we've ever had," said Dr. Konda Reddy, medical director of pediatric diabetes at AdventHealth Central Florida.

The reason it's taken so long is because Type 1 diabetes is tricky to develop medication against, Reddy said.

"Basically, you need to control autoimmunity, but we don't know what the cause of Type 1 diabetes is. That's why trying to figure out which medications are helpful to control the autoimmunity is difficult," Reddy said.

Teplizumab stops the body from attacking the pancreas and the beta cells within that create insulin. As a result, it is capable of holding off symptoms for years. Symptoms such as increased hunger, inability to control the bladder, blurry vision, weakness, and more. However, the medication is effective only if the diagnosis is made early on the disease's development.

The drug received FDA approval at the tail-end of 2022 — six weeks before Anderson's diagnosis.

"But putting my child through a new treatment was very scary,"
- Jill Ata

As Anderson and his mother were learning about all the different medications he would need to be on as a diabetic, his father Joe was researching the latest information on Type 1 diabetes.

"My coping mechanism is to go insane and down a rabbit hole of research," Joe said.

That's when Joe found an AdventHealth Central Florida article about Teplizumab being offered at the hospital. The Atas met Dr. Reddy, who informed them that Anderson was an ideal candidate.

Despite the FDA approval, Teplizumab’s novelty didn’t sit well with Anderson’s mother, Jill.

"I have friends who are Type 1 diabetics. It's a way of life that's hard, but it's very manageable. It's daunting, but putting my child through a new treatment was very scary," she said.

Ultimately, the Atas let Anderson make the choice. Go through 14 days of 1-hour Teplizumab infusions or learn to take insulin every day.

The choice was easy for him.

"It's like saying, have 14 not the best days for 1,235 good days. So I feel like that's a pretty fair deal," Anderson said.

The treatment isn't cheap. Teplizumab costs about $200,000, Reddy said. A painful price, but the Atas were able to get the new drug approved through their insurance and began treatment in February.

But the infusions came with their own kind of pain. On day five, Anderson received his first full dose of Teplizumab. He was nauseous all day. He had stomach and back pain as well as trouble breathing.

"This was the hard thing about being one of the first people to get it is you didn't know what was normal," Joe said.

(From the top) Joe, Jill, Anderson, and Lex Ata pose for a family photo on New Year's. Last year, the family was at a 2023 New Year's party where the kids enjoyed the night by eating lots of candy. Three hours into the new year, Anderson exhibited symptoms of shivering and extreme thirst. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and is believed to have developed the disease through contact with a virus.
Jill Ata
/
Submitted
(From the top) Joe, Jill, Anderson, and Lex Ata pose for a family photo on New Year's. Last year, the family was at a 2023 New Year's party where the kids enjoyed the night by eating lots of candy. Three hours into the new year, Anderson exhibited symptoms of shivering and extreme thirst. He was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes and is believed to have developed the disease through contact with a virus.

On day six, Anderson started feeling better and made it through the rest of the treatment without complications. One year later, Anderson's treatment is a success, showing no symptoms. He does take one insulin injection a day, but that's mostly out of caution to help with his few remaining beta cells.

After the FDA approval, Anderson was the 7th person in the world to receive Teplizumab and the first in Central Florida. It’s believed that it could stymie diabetes symptoms anywhere between two to five years. In clinical trials, some kids experienced as many as eight years symptom-free, Reddy said. Anderson is hoping to break the record.

"He's very competitive. So he's gonna try for nine," Joe said. "We hope that he still continues to be ignorant of what it means to be fully diabetic for a long, long time. Every minute, every second, every hour that we get that he doesn't have to have that burden added to his everyday life, that's a win."

Reddy said that there haven’t been any other patients since Anderson at Adventhealth, but he’s hoping to promote more Type 1 diabetes awareness and get more people tested, making them aware of the Teplizumab option in 2024 and beyond.

"This was a historical moment," Reddy said. "Now we have a new hope. With this new hope, in the future, we may find the modalities to cure for type one."

Originally from South Florida, Joe Mario came to Orlando to attend the University of Central Florida where he graduated with degrees in Radio & Television Production, Film, and Psychology. He worked several beats and covered multimedia at The Villages Daily Sun but returned to the City Beautiful as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel where he covered crime, hurricanes, and viral news. Joe Mario has too many interests and not enough time but tries to focus on his love for strange stories in comic books and horror movies. When he's not writing he loves to run in his spare time.
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