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Catherine Duff

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An Indiana woman undergoes fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) to cure her recurring Clostridium difficile infections, saving her life.

I was already very sick when I had my first Clostridium difficile (C. diff.) infection. It was the fall of 2005, I was driving home from a dinner and started having intense pain in my abdomen. I drove to the emergency room, had a CT scan, was diagnosed with severe diverticulitis, put on antibiotics and had surgery to remove one-third of my colon. My pain became worse. I collapsed and was taken back into surgery because an abscess had burst, and I developed a serious blood infection. I was put on intravenous (IV) antibiotics, diagnosed with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) and developed C. diff. from the antibiotics. 

I woke up from the second surgery with a colostomy bag to collect waste products. It took five months of IV antibiotics before I got better. In May 2006, I had another surgery to reverse my colostomy and was given antibiotics I developed C. diff. again. It took five months of antibiotics to get better and allow me to return to work. I missed an entire year. During the next six years, I developed C. diff. six more times. Each time it was worse, and took longer to recover. Eventually I couldn’t work. For months at a time, I had diarrhea up to 30 times a day. I was bedridden and lost almost 70 pounds. I developed a fast heart rate and my kidneys started failing. 

The seventh C. diff. infection in April 2012 was resistant to antibiotics. After several months of trying different antibiotics, my doctors told me they had nothing left to offer, and that I should say my goodbyes to my family. Knowing modern medicine could not save my life was surreal. My family learned of an experimental treatment called fecal microbiota transplant (FMT). The treatment involves the donation of stool from a healthy, tested donor to the patient.

Because the doctors wouldn’t perform it, we did it at home, with my husband as the donor. Within four hours I felt almost normal. If I hadn’t experienced it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it. 

I completely recovered, but within months had to undergo emergency spinal fusion. I was given IV antibiotics (against orders) and developed C. diff. again. It was antibiotic-resistant. After several months, one of my doctors agreed to perform FMT by colonoscopy. It worked just as it had before and right away I felt almost fine.

While I recovered, I couldn’t stop thinking of the 30,000 Americans a year who die from C. diff. who never had the chance of receiving the life-saving treatment. So early in 2014, I started The Fecal Transplant Foundation to provide education, raise awareness and advocate for patients and for the science of FMT. Since then I’ve become involved with several groups working on the worldwide epidemic of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Giving antibiotics needlessly contributes to the problem, whether for C. diff., infections that are viral, not bacterial or for infections that would clear up on their own. Another problem is the use of antibiotics in our food and water supplies and the increasing speed with which quickly evolving bacteria are developing resistance to even antibiotics of last resort. Please think twice the next time you are prescribed (or prescribing) antibiotics. Do you really need them? Maybe, if your life is at risk. Otherwise, probably not.

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