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Fecal transplant saves Valley woman's life

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Ellen Christensen, the fecal transplant recipient. Ellen Christensen, the fecal transplant recipient.
Ellen and her brother, Ron Jones, who provided the donation. Ellen and her brother, Ron Jones, who provided the donation.
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MESA, AZ (CBS5) -

A local Valley woman says a unique procedure saved her life. It's called a "fecal transplant," and Ellen Christensen is one of a few dozen in the Valley that have gone through the life-saving procedure.

Back in January 2011, Christensen went to her dentist with a problem - she had an abscessed tooth. Her dentist prescribed her antibiotics, which wiped out her tooth problem, but gave her a much more deadly one. The antibiotics had killed all of the good bacterial in her large intestine, leaving only the much stronger bacteria, clostridium dificile, or C-Diff to multiply.

"Three days after I finished with the antibiotics, I started running the diarrhea like you would never believe," recalled Christensen.

"I felt pooped out. That's how I felt like," she joked.

Doctors say between 5 to 7 percent of the population have the C-Diff bacteria already living in their large intestine. However, it is kept at bay by the thousands of other types of good bacteria. But in Christensen's case, the antibiotics killed the good bacteria, leaving C-Diff to grow.

"It goes nuts in your intestine and it goes crazy and basically eats away the walls of the intestine. It's very hard to kill," she said.

Christensen went to Banner Baywood Medical Center, where she met with doctors Andrew Weinberg, a gastroenterologist, and Joe Zachariah, an infectious disease specialist.

"The patients I see are very, very sick," said Weinberg.

Coupled with Zachariah, Weinberg decided the best bet for Christensen would be to perform a fecal transplant.

"Antibiotics by itself was not helping," Zachariah said.

Christensen said she was shocked at first by the suggestion, but since she was in so much pain, she decided to go forward with the procedure.

"People are all familiar with colonoscopies. This is the exact same procedure," explained Zachariah.

"We go to the ends (of the large intestine) and we try to cover all the surfaces with the filtered stool which has all the bacteria that we need to restore the normal flora there," described Weinberg.

The stool sample came from her brother, Ron Jones. Doctors say the sample does not have to come from a family member. The stool just has to be free from any disease and from a patient with a healthy diet.

"You collect a stool sample, and they said, 'Get this and bring it to the hospital by a certain time of day.' Then they go in and do a treatment," Jones said.

Within a day, Christensen said she was already feeling better. Though the procedure is rare, it is gaining in popularity with people suffering from C-Diff. Doctors say it is 90 percent effective at restoring normal flora to the intestines.

For more information on colon health, visit the Phoenix Chapter of Colon Cancer Alliance website here.

Copyright 2012 CBS 5 (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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