Many turning to experimental fecal transplant to cure gastrointestinal issues
Hundreds of thousands of people suffer from a painful type of gastrointestinal infection each year. It is an infection so serious that it could turn deadly. But many are turning to a bizarre cure -- using fecal transplants in the privacy of their own homes.
The Food and Drug Administration calls it an experimental treatment and some doctors say doing it at home is dangerous.
"I knew that something was wrong," said Sandra Bishop. "I had blood in my stool. I was tired."
She has always had a sensitive stomach, but a few years ago, she had an experience unlike any before.
"Hip pain, roving sort of arthritic pain," she said. "Really, really strange. I didn't know really what was going on."
Bishop also lost 12 pounds over a six-month period. Being a physician assistant herself, she did her research. She saw doctor after doctor, took different medications, but nothing worked.
Then one day, the pain was so bad that she collapsed and went to the hospital.
"When I got back home, I just thought I keep taking stronger antacids and that's really not helping," Bishop said. "I just sensed that I need to stop everything."
Desperate and wasting away, she had heard of a fecal microbiota transplant or FMT. The FDA considers it an experimental drug for a condition called clostridium difficile or C. difficile.
According to the American Gastroenterological Association, clostridium difficile is an intestinal bug that infects about 500,000 Americans each year and sends close to 350,000 people to the hospital. In extreme cases, it can be deadly.
Bishop said she didn't have that, but was willing to try FMT anyway.
I am just really fortunate I had a family member that volunteered to be a donor and a very good friend that also volunteered," said Bishop.
She decided to do the procedure herself. There are even YouTube videos walking people through the steps of administering an enema.
"Before doing it, there is a sense of fire that was immediate," Bishop described. "I felt relief immediately."
Michael Hurst is from Arlington, Va. He has a website called fecaltransplant.org. He suffered from ulcerative colitis and found nothing worked. He read up on FMT as well.
"I didn't want to wait any longer, I didn't want to deal with all that because the research was there," he told us. "Just taking stool, mixing it up with a little bit of water and administering it as an enema. It's that simple."
Hurst was also on anti-inflammatory drugs while he did the procedure. He walked us through the process at his apartment using a frozen banana as a stand in for stool.
"I piled all these things on at once, and within 24 hours, it was completely gone," he said.
He did the procedure back in 2011 and he hasn't had a problem since.
But doctors caution the jury is still out on FMT.
Dr. Colleen Kelly from the Women's Medicine Collaborative is one of the lead researchers in the FMT field. She said it is a powerful treatment that changes gut bacteria in a major way. Infections risks are unknown and it does not work for everyone.
She said the research is still very limited and cautions against doing the treatment at home.
Bishop and Hurst were willing to take the chance after years of suffering through medicines and treatments that did not work.
"I don't know whether it saved my life, but I know it saved my quality of life," Bishop said. "I could function."
"It's hard to believe that after that much time and money and so many different medications and drugs, that something so simple using $30 worth of supplies from a drug store and some poop could fix things," said Hurts.
You can find more information about FMT on the American Gastroenterological Association's website: www.gastro.org