Patient story

Unique transplant helps woman overcome a dangerous infection

Carol is a busy Twin Cities Realtor, artist, gardener and skilled seamstress who isn’t afraid to go out of her comfort zone.

“When I turned 50, I worried I’d become stagnant, so I decided I would celebrate birthdays by doing things I have never done, with people I did not know,” recalls Carol. Dragon boat paddling was one of those things. Not only did she try it, but she developed a passion for it and joined a local team. But Carol had to abandon most of the season in the boat on the Mississippi with her favorite crew of girls when her health took a dramatic turn south.

Her trouble began when a bout of diverticulitis sent her to the hospital in the spring of 2011. “I had horrible, horrible stomach cramping and diarrhea that just wouldn’t go away,” recalls Carol. “By the time I got to the hospital, my blood pressure was so low, I kept passing out. I should not have driven myself to the hospital but I did not realize how sick I was.”

Difficult battle begins
Carol left the hospital with the diverticulitis diagnosis and (unbeknownst to her) an infection called clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection in the colon. Also called C. diff, this infection can be life-threatening and is extremely difficult to treat. After a course of antibiotics to treat the original abscess of her colon, Carol’s colon was overwhelmed with C-diff and she ended up back in the hospital. Carol then completed a round of a strong antibiotic called vancomcyin to treat the infection, only to have it reoccur 10 days later. This cycle repeated itself - stool sample, antibiotics, then sick again 10 days later. 

As she struggled to control this infection, Carol experienced frequent diarrhea and vomiting. Unable to predict when she’d become ill and with her energy quickly deteriorating, she took a medical leave from work. “As a realtor, I have to be available for my listings and clients, and I simply could not guarantee I could be there. It was difficult, too, in that I looked fine, but felt terrible, and this really is not a condition you want to share with everyone.”

Carol quickly lost 25 pounds and her vibrant energy. She spent the summer close to home and missed out on a lot of activities. The cost of her treatment quickly added up. Without health insurance, Carol paid $1,400 for each series of antibiotics. On her third round, she was relieved when her pharmacist told her about a liquid version of the medicine that is significantly cheaper. It isn’t prescribed as often as it is not commonly available at most pharmacies, but Carol tracked it down and saved nearly $1,200 per round of treatment.
Finding the right treatment and doctor changes everything
After three cycles of illness and treatment, her doctor suggested a new therapy - a fecal transplant to rid her body of this infection. Carol didn't hesitate. “I had completed a lot of online research by this point. I knew my good levels of bacteria were not rebounding and the infection was winning the battle. I could not stand being ill any longer and was eager to try something with a better success rate.”

Carol says she was lucky a second time when referred to Alexander Khoruts, MD, a gastroenterologist at Fairview Maple Grove Medical Center. He has performed more than 150 fecal transplants and has years of research experience. He’s found that 90 percent of his patients require just one transplant to cure them of C. diff.

Carol had her transplant in November 2011 and she said she felt better immediately. Over the following months, Carol regained her energy, got back to work and most importantly – back to enjoying life again. She stepped out of her comfort zone again by participating in a research study with Dr. Khoruts and once more in sharing her story, “I simply hope my experience with this terrible infection can someday help someone else.”

Make an appointment
If you are interested in an appointment with Dr. Khoruts, or any of our gastroenterologists, call 763-898-1000. 
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