Fecal Matter Transplant Saves Woman’s Life

John Neumann for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Kaitlin Hunter of Marietta GA, after a near-fatal auto accident, found herself fighting for her life against a clostridium difficile (C. diff) infection in her colon due to the June 2011 car crash.

Emergency crews had to cut Hunter from her dad´s car and then she was flown to a hospital, where she found herself recovering for weeks afterwards from a fractured spine, lacerated liver and colon, and 10 broken toes.

In the hospital after her accident, doctors followed standard care and put Hunter on antibiotics to prevent an infection, reports William Hudson for CNN. And it was in spite of the antibiotics — or possibly because of them — when C. diff infected her colon, causing severe stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting.

C. diff infections kill about 14,000 people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the number and severity of total cases have increased dramatically over the past decade.

Antibiotics are designed to kill harmful, infection-causing bacteria, but can also weaken the beneficial bacteria percolating in the colon. With the colon´s defenses down, C. diff grows rampant, releasing a toxin and inflaming the colon.

Hunter´s colon infection proved difficult to treat, even after 9 rounds of antibiotic treatments for her, but was finally beaten through a little-known technique involving the transplant of fecal matter, which put healthy bacteria back into her colon.

More and more doctors are looking for treatments that decrease the amount of antibiotics introduced into a patient, knowing that the risk increases for the infections to become immune to them. Fecal matter transplants are becoming more accepted and successful all the time, as they recolonize the colon with new bacteria from a healthy donor.

“This is brand-new for most gastroenterologists,” said Dr. Suku George, Hunter´s treating physician. “We are very excited about this.”

George had never deposited fecal matter by colonoscopy into a patient until Hunter wanted to try it. Hunter´s mother “donated” one of her stools for the procedure. Next, the hospital lab carefully diluted it and George pumped the foreign fecal matter right into Hunter´s colon, resulting in a successful ending of Hunter´s struggle with the bacteria.

A study published in March of this year reported a 91% cure rate after just one fecal matter transplant and a 98% cure rate when combined with an additional round of antibiotics.

Remarkably, that study only included the sickest of patients with 77 of the study participants suffering a recurring C. diff infection after having tried and failed five rounds of antibiotic-only treatments over 11 months, on average.

The study used the colonoscopy method with its relatively large amounts of fecal matter placed deep inside the colon. This is believed to be the most effective method.

Other methods use either an enema or a nasogastric tube, which sends fecal matter through the nasal passage, down the throat and into the stomach.

After attempting the nasogastric tube procedure on Hunter, using fecal material from her father, the C. diff infection returned. George asked for and received permission to perform the hospital´s first colonoscopic fecal transplant.

Gastroenterologists pioneering the practice would like to see a cleaner, commercially developed suppository to replace the crude feces and water mixtures currently in use. “It´ll become a little more acceptable to hospitals and patients and more widely performed,” said Dr. Lawrence Brandt, a professor of medicine and surgery at New York´s Albert Einstein College of Medicine who was the lead author of the March study.

“But for people that have recurring C. diff, it doesn´t really much matter, because these patients are so ill and so much want to get better. The fact that it´s stool, it doesn´t matter to them.”