MARIETTA, GA --A new medical procedure involving pumping fecal matter into one's colon is saving one woman's life.
Kaitlin Hunter's struggle began in June 2011when a car accident fractured her lower spine, lacerated her liver andcolon, and broke all ten toes.
Emergency crews used the Jaws of Life to cutHunter from her dad's car, and then she was flown to the hospital, whereshe spent the next month.
Upon her release, Hunter flew home to Georgia.
It hadn't been the summer vacation she imagined, but she thought she was getting better.
"Right when I got off the plane, I went tothe hospital. I was having extremely bad stomach pain. A month later, wefound out it was C. diff," Hunter said, using the abbreviation for thebacteria Clostridium difficile.
In the hospital after her accident, doctors followed standard care and put Hunter on antibiotics to prevent an infection.
In spite of the antibiotics -- or possiblybecause of them -- C. diff infected her colon, causing severe stomachpain, diarrhea and vomiting.
Hunter, who stands 5 feet 7 inches tall, lost 40 pounds during her struggle.
Her weight plummeted to 85 pounds.
It's believed that antibiotics, which killharmful infection-causing bacteria, also weaken the beneficial, healthybacteria percolating in the colon.
With the colon's defenses down, C. diff grows rampant, releasing a toxin and inflaming the colon.
C. diff infections kill about 14,000 peoplein the United States every year, according to the Centers for DiseaseControl and Prevention, and the number and severity of total cases haveincreased dramatically over the past decade.
Even though antibiotics put someone at riskof developing a C. diff infection, standard treatment still calls forprescribing more and different antibiotics to kill the C. diff and allowhealthy bacteria to recolonize.
But for many people such as Hunter -- whowent through nine rounds of antibiotic treatments -- the healthybacteria never get the upper hand, and the C. diff just keeps comingback.
Increasingly, doctors are taking a different approach.
Instead of continued assaults on bacteria,"fecal matter transplants" recolonize the colon with new bacteria from ahealthy donor.
"This is brand-new for mostgastroenterologists," 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.
The result ended Hunter's struggle with C. diff.
A study published in March reported a 91%cure rate after just one fecal matter transplant, and a 98% cure ratewhen combined with an additional round of antibiotics.
Remarkably, that study only included the sickest of patients.
All 77 of the study participants already had arecurring C. diff infection, having tried and failed five rounds ofantibiotic-only treatments over 11 months, on average.
The study used the colonoscopy method, whichmany believe is the most effective, because relatively large amounts offecal matter can be placed deep inside the colon.
Other methods use either an enema or anasogastric tube, which sends fecal matter through the nasal passage,down the throat and into the stomach.
George tried the nasogastric tube on Hunter, using fecal material from her father, but the C. diff infection returned.
He then asked for and received permission to perform the hospital's first colonoscopic fecal transplant.
Gastroenterologists pioneering the practiceunanimously seem to agree that eventually a cleaner, commerciallydeveloped suppository will replace the crude feces and water mixturescurrently in use.
"It'll become a little more acceptable tohospitals and patients and more widely performed," said Dr. LawrenceBrandt, a professor of medicine and surgery at New York's AlbertEinstein College of Medicine who was the lead author on the March study."But for people that have recurring C. diff, it doesn't really muchmatter, because these patients are so ill and so much want to getbetter. The fact that it's stool, it doesn't matter to them."