In 2013, at the age of 4 1/2, Matan Fleishman was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. The Mayo Clinic defines type 1 as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, a chronic condition typically identified during childhood and adolescence in which the pancreas does not produce enough insulin for glucose to enter cells and produce energy.
Matan’s parents were concerned about their son’s excessive drinking and urinating, and his mother, Nataly, took him to their doctor in Norfolk, Va., for tests. She was shocked when they were instructed to go straight to the hospital.
That night, the holiday of Sukkot began. The following days, Seth and Nataly Fleishman, who was seven months pregnant with twins, walked to the hospital with their daughter (they are religiously observant Jews) and rotated night shifts to be with Matan and to receive training to manage his care.
According to the National Institutes of Health website, type 1 diabetes may be triggered by environmental factors, such as viruses or by genes. Recently, Nataly Fleishman, a sixth-generation Israeli, discovered that diabetes existed in her family several generations earlier, but that wasn’t known when Matan was diagnosed.
Matan immediately started receiving insulin shots. Fleishman, whose husband’s job demanded frequent travel, managed Matan’s treatment and scrupulously followed the doctor’s guidelines. And Matan’s preschool teachers worked with his family to control his blood sugar and learned to administer insulin shots.
Fleishman describes this regimen as “a terrible roller coaster ride. Matan’s blood sugar was inconstant, often vacillating between too low or too high. I didn’t really sleep for three years,” she said. “I was responsible for Matan’s insulin shots through the night if he was high, or to feed him glucose if he was low. Matan wasn’t thriving, and I dedicated myself to learning everything I could about type 1. I believed there had to be something better than the standard treatment.”
In 2015, the Fleishmans moved to Atlanta for their children to attend Jewish schools through high school, and they sought a local endocrinologist. Simultaneously, Nataly learned about a highly recommended Israeli endocrinologist working at the Boston Joslin Diabetes Center, billed as the world’s largest diabetes clinic, research and education center. Matan was almost 7 years old when Seth Fleishman brought him to Boston. Nataly followed up by sending summaries of his daily blood glucose measurements to Joslin every few weeks.
The Fleishmans, by then the parents of four children, were required to bring Matan to Boston every few months, but they were increasingly convinced there had to be a better plan. In the meantime, Nataly discovered that she had autoimmune conditions and she and her older daughter were pre-diabetic. (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, A1C measures blood sugar levels over periods of three months. An A1C over 5.7 is pre-diabetic, and over 6.5 indicates diabetes.)
Fleishman continued to research and learn. From an Israeli friend, she heard about TypeOneGrit, an over 3,000-member Facebook group. Type-OneGrit follows a diet and lifestyle program devised by Dr. Richard Bernstein, an 87-year-old physician with type 1 diabetes. To participate in this online community, one must first read his book, “Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution: The Complete Guide to Achieving Normal Blood Sugars.” It recommends an ultra-low carbohydrate diet along with treatment protocols outside the norm. Fleishman explained, “Not only do you have to read the book, but there’s a test to pass! Reading this book was life changing. The Bernstein carbohydrate protocol differs from the standard treatment, and we finally found Atlanta endocrinologists who support Bernstein’s methods.
“Most mothers fear going off the standard treatment, but I took responsibility for my son. If anything goes wrong, it’s on me. When Matan was 8 years old, I had finally changed his diet and insulin regimen. With his full consent and willingness, I told him, ‘You can lead a life of complications forever or you can prevent suffering and be normal. I can’t do it for you; you have to take charge.’ Where there’s food that our children know is unhealthy for them, most of the time they choose to eat better food I have waiting for them at home instead. Sometimes I send appropriate treats with them. No one is deprived because I know how to provide healthful, tasty food.”
Matan’s blood sugar depends on the type of carbs he eats. His diet is high in protein, moderate in fats and low in carbohydrates, and the carbs are mainly from vegetables and low-carb foods. He gets an insulin injection before every meal, and basal insulin when he wakes up and goes to sleep. He wears a continual monitoring device on his arm, which is connected to Fleishman’s cell phone.
She elucidates, “Matan eats 30 grams of carbs a day, divided into 6 for breakfast, 12 for lunch, and 12 for dinner. His blood sugar is now stable. Since December of 2017, Matan’s A1C is below 5, on par or better than most non-diabetics, a rarity in the diabetic world, but it’s a never-ending commitment.”
Fleishman’s non-traditional management of her son’s diabetes improved her family’s health; they now all follow a low-carb diet. Learning to cure her own pre-diabetes and autoimmune problems, Fleishman subsequently created a free Facebook group to support healthy living, https://nataly.mastermind.com/masterminds/20948, and she developed a seven-week online course Breathe Health for people with autoimmune conditions, laying out her extensive research and three-year journey.
- Chana Shapiro
- Health and Wellness
- Type 1 diabetes
- Dr. Richard Bernstein
- Dr. Bernstein’s Diabetes Solution
- Nataly Fleishman
- Mayo Clinic
- Joslin Diabetes Center
- insulin pump
- blood sugar
- Breathe Health
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- National Institutes of Health