Fecal transplant helps man survive gut infection

C. difficile resists antibiotics and often causes deadly diarrhea

April 02, 2015

Michael Moeller had suffered for 10 months with debilitating diarrhea. Finally, after only one dose and one day, he knew he was over it.

The treatment was not a new or stronger or different combination of antibiotics, but a fecal microbiota transplant, or FMT, which involves placing the stool of a healthy donor into a sick person’s intestine. FMT, which UCI Health is testing in a clinical trial, is showing remarkable results as an effective treatment for Clostridium difficile, a diarrhea that is one of the most deadly, hard-to-eradicate and common infections.

“I physically felt better the very next day,” Moeller said. “I could tell that it was finally gone and that I was on the road to recovery.”

In April 2014, Moeller had been prescribed antibiotics to treat a sinus and an intestinal infection. The sinus infection cleared up, but the intestinal infection continued to intensify until Moeller was forced to take a leave of absence from work.

“I couldn’t leave my home because the diarrhea was that bad,” Moeller said. “I couldn’t go to work. My roommate and friends did my grocery shopping. I even had to cancel doctors’ appointments because I would have a bout of diarrhea during the drive. I was ready to try anything.”

During the many weeks of physical inactivity, Moeller lost 34 pound as his muscles atrophied, his stamina faded and his energy level plummeted. He fell twice, resulting in head injuries that required stitches – as many as 23 for a nasty gash on his head.

After the fourth round of antibiotics in January 2015 failed to cure his diarrhea, Moeller was tested for C. diff. The positive test explained the reason his condition was deteriorating instead of improving. Antibiotics are ineffective for treatment, as they kill off the naturally occurring intestinal bacteria that normally keep C. diff in check, while the microbiomes in healthy donor stool help to restore proper bacterial balance and eliminate the infection.

Such infections are no laughing matter. According the latest CDC data published recently in The New England Journal of Medicine, C. diff caused 500,000 illness and 29,000 deaths in 2011, higher than any previous year.

Currently classified as an experimental drug, UC Irvine has received FDA authorization to administer FMT as an experimental treatment. Moeller was referred to gastroenterologist Dr. William Karnes, who perform the procedure via endoscope at the H.H. Chao Comprehensive Digestive Disease Center. The first step was to find a suitable donor.

“Asking someone to be your donor for FMT is an interesting proposition to make,” Moeller said. “It has to be someone you absolutely trust. I was lucky. I have a friend I’ve known for 30 years. Although she and her husband knew what I had been going through, when I told them about the new cure and what I needed her to do, they were a bit taken aback. I am happy to say that they agreed, and I cannot believe how quickly it worked and what a relief it is to get my life back.”

Moeller has worked at Disney for 39 years. In late February, he was able to return to his job as an office coordinator for the scheduling department.

“I am now the happiest man at the happiest place on earth!” he said with a smile.

Pat Harriman, UCI Health Communications

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