Oct. 22, 2012 at 8:46 AM ET
As a young mom with a very sick toddler, Tatum Williams would have done anything -- no matter how odd -- to make her baby better.
So when doctors told her that 20-month-old Jesse’s last chance to cure a life-threatening gut infection was to transfer a stool sample -- yes, poop -- from mother to son, Williams didn’t blink.
“I was all for it,” recalled the 28-year-old mother of two from Baltimore.
After some research, she quickly agreed to what’s known as Fecal Microbiota Transplantation, or FMT, an unusual treatment used to battle serious, recurrent diarrhea and other symptoms caused by a nasty bug called Clostridium difficile, or C. diff.
“We had been dealing with his C. diff for nine months,” said Williams. “He was losing weight because of everything he would lose in his diaper.”
Jesse may have been the youngest child ever to undergo the treatment that transfers feces from a healthy donor to help repopulate the beneficial bacteria in an infected colon. But as far as Williams was concerned, there was no choice.
“It couldn’t get any worse,” she said.
Dr. Sudhir K. Dutta, the head of the gastroenterology department at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, agreed. The curly-haired toddler was suffering all of the signs of the dangerous, contagious infection that has become increasingly common, sickening more than 300,000 patients a year in U.S. hospitals and causing some 14,000 deaths, according to federal health officials.
Jesse, who was born at 27 weeks’ gestation, has grappled with several problems since birth, including respiratory distress and feeding troubles, all made worse by the C. diff infection.
The child already had received powerful antibiotics, even an intravenous immunoglobulin -- blood products -- injection to battle the infection, to no avail.
“They really had no other option,” said Dutta, who performed the transplant in March. His assistant is Dr. Ritu Walia, also of Sinai Hospital. The pair presented their report on Jesse's case at the American College of Gastroenterology's annual scientific meeting in Las Vegas. Dutta has gained attention for his fecal transplant work, including a clip that aired on Comedy Central's The Colbert Report.
C. diff infection occurs when the spore-forming bug invades the intestine, often after heavy use of certain types of antibiotics kill off other healthy bacteria in the gut. It's an infection often acquired in hospitals, though patients in nursing homes and other care centers get C. diff, too. It's not clear how Jesse acquired his infection, though he has been hospitalized often during his short life.
Fecal transplants increasingly have been used in adults with success rates as high as 90 percent or more, according to recent reviews. A new study released last week by researchers at Henry Ford Hospital found that 43 of 49 patients with C. diff infections recovered swiftly after fecal transplants and had no problems up to three months later.
Still, performing the procedure on a toddler was different. The stool is typically transferred through a tube that runs from the nose to the stomach, or through a colonoscopy.
“The concerns were basically perforation of the bowel in such a young child,” explained Dutta. “So fragile, so delicate.”
Pediatricians at Johns Hopkins Hospital were reluctant to perform the transplant themselves, so they referred Jesse to Dutta, who had to get special certification to work on a child.
Once the procedure was approved, a donor had to be found, preferably someone from the same household. Tests showed Jesse’s mom was a good match.
Despite the early worries, the procedure went smoothly, Dutta said. Even better, Jesse started to improve almost immediately.
“Within two days, I saw changes,” his mother said. “It was unbelievable.”
Since the fecal transplant, however, he hasn’t been admitted to the hospital and seems to be healing better, his mother said.
“Now, he’s a typical 2-year-old,” she said. “He loves playing with cars, Mickey Mouse.”
Williams credits the doctors at Johns Hopkins and Sinai for arranging the unusual procedure that helped her family, which includes Jesse’s dad, Chad Snyders, and his brother, Kaiden, 9.
But, she added, her youngest son’s health is nothing less than a blessing.
“I want all Jesse’s success to go to the glory of God,” she said.