KIRKLAND, Wash., Oct. 28, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- Traditionally, patients who contract C. difficile (C. diff)—an intestinal infection that causes severe cramping and diarrhea—have faced a treatment regimen filled with rounds of expensive antibiotics, each with their own troubling side effects and a less-than-spectacular success rate.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of C. diff have increased nationwide over the past several years, resulting in half a million cases annually. About 14,000 of those cases result in death.
For those who receive care at Kirkland's EvergreenHealth, a new but unusual treatment has won the praises of patients for its almost-immediate relief, and is a process that was first introduced nearly 55 years ago but only recently won FDA approval: fecal transplants.
A fecal transplant is a procedure in which a screened donor provides fecal matter that is implanted into the patient using a procedure resembling a colonoscopy. The intent is to re-introduce a natural balance of the beneficial bacteria that normally exist in a healthy colon but that has been overwhelmed by antibiotics or the C. diff bacteria.
Earlier this year, a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine was the first to compare patients undergoing fecal transplants for C. diff to those receiving traditional antibiotic treatments. The study was cut short after 94 percent of transplant patients were cured, compared to only 27 percent using antibiotics; the study sponsors considered it unethical to withhold the more-effective fecal transplant from all the patients in the study.
According to Dr. Francis X. Riedo, an infectious-disease physician at EvergreenHealth, and former Epidemic Intelligence Service Officer with the Centers for Disease Control, the use of fecal transplants is as close to a silver bullet in fighting a condition as serious as C. diff as he's seen in his 30 years of medicine.
"Since we started offering the procedure in 2012, I've seen patients who have had remarkable results overnight," Dr. Riedo said. "I've heard time and again from patients who've gone through antibiotic treatments that their only regret is that they didn't have a fecal transplant sooner, before enduring the side effects and cost of the traditional antibiotic treatments."
EvergreenHealth is leading the region in treating C. diff, which can plague patients with violent bouts of diarrhea, with as many as 20 episodes in a day, often paired with severe and painful cramping.
"Many of our patients prior to fecal transplants could not go out to dinner, go shopping or enjoy many of the social activities we all take for granted," Dr. Riedo added. "To see how quickly they respond to the treatment, and are able to resume normal activities, borders on miraculous."
Dr. Riedo and practice partners Dr. Robert Geise and Dr. Jason Van Winkle work closely with Dr. Arnold Levin and Dr. Russ Arjul, the gastroenterologists who perform the transplant procedure at EvergreenHealth, which is one of the first hospitals in the region to offer fecal transplants.
71-year-old Bothell resident Linda Bollen, who battled C. diff for months before undergoing EvergreenHealth's first fecal transplant in 2012, saw the benefits of the treatment firsthand.
"I tried multiple antibiotics but none provided a cure. Eventually, I was so ill that my organs essentially began shutting down," said Bollen, whose husband served as her stool donor. "When I was told a transplant could help me, I didn't need to think twice about it."
Bollen's body had a positive and nearly immediate response to the transplant. The bacteria in her intestines began to stabilize and, by the next day, her symptoms had dramatically improved.
Bollen is one of 13 patients who have undergone a fecal transplant at EvergreenHealth. In recent months, the procedure has gained traction thanks to its great success, acceptance by the FDA and increased public awareness.
"Naturally, the concept of a fecal transplant can seem distasteful at first, but it's nothing compared to the effects of C. diff," said Dr. Riedo. "As awareness grows, we're seeing patients who have already done their homework and want to know if this is the right option for them."
EvergreenHealth, a public hospital district and community-based healthcare organization established in 1972, offers a breadth of services and programs that is among the most comprehensive in the region. More than 950 physicians provide clinical excellence within more than 80 specialties, including cardiac, oncology, surgical care, orthopedics, a neuroscience institute, women's and children's services, hospice care, pulmonary care, a sleep disorders center and home care services. EvergreenHealth serves more than 400,000 residents in its primary service area of northern King and southern Snohomish counties with EvergreenHealth Primary Care, a network of primary and urgent care practices, and its main hospital campus in Kirkland, Wash. EvergreenHealth also provides emergency care at two sites; its main hospital campus and the EvergreenHealth Redmond Medical Center. In addition to clinical care, EvergreenHealth offers extensive community health outreach and education programs, anchored by EvergreenHealth Nurse Navigator & Healthline, a 24/7 nurse consultation service. For more information, visit www.evergreenhealth.com.
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