After a roller-coaster week, fecal transplant patient takes a ride...on a roller coaster

Alexandra Hildebrandt had enough to deal with before she developed recurrent Clostridium difficile (C. difficile), a vicious infection of the colon brought on by the use of antibiotics. She was beginning a new round of radiation treatments to help fight her stage four cancer; starting a new chemotherapy drug; and taking her family on a week-long trip to Disneyland.

“Now where does dealing with horrifying, uncontrollable diarrhea fit in with all that?” asked Alexandra, 59, who thinks she acquired the infection from complications following vigorous chemotherapy last spring.

Doctors tried for nearly four months to tame the infection. But every time she came off the therapy for C. difficile, her diarrhea would return. Then her family doctor told Alexandra about a revolutionary procedure that involved transplanting stool from a healthy person – either by colonoscopy or in pill form - into the large intestine of the person with the infection.

By this point, “I was ready to try anything,” said Alexandra. “Listen, I’m a cancer patient. But this infection affected me in ways that cancer never has. I was absolutely terrified of being away from a bathroom. I didn’t want to leave the house. And I was still infectious so I couldn’t touch anything or anybody. That’s no way to live.”

On Tuesday, October 7, 2014,  Alexandra visited the University of Alberta Hospital to meet with gastroenterologist Dr. Dina Kao, who performs the procedure known as Fecal Microbiota Transplantation (FMT). “When Alexandra came to see me her attitude was, ‘Let’s just get this done,’” said Dr. Kao. “She was fearless.”

Pictured (l to r): Dr. Dina Kao, Clinical Research Nurse, Brandi Roach, and grateful patients 
Alexandra Hildebrandt, Susan Brothen and Lora Rode

With donor support to the University Hospital Foundation and funding from the Foundation’s Medical Research Competition, Dr. Kao is now leading a study that will analyze the effects of regularly scheduled fecal transplants on patients with Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative colitis, debilitating chronic inflammatory diseases of the intestines.

Two days after her meeting with Dr. Kao, Alexandra returned to the hospital and took her dose of 50 pills containing healthy fecal microbiota. “My husband happily sat with Dr. Kao and enjoyed a nice conversation while I took down these pills. I started at 8:30 in the morning and finished in about an hour. By lunchtime, I was feeling better. That evening I sat down and ate my supper.”

On Sunday, Alexandra, her husband Gus, their kids and grandkids boarded a plane for California. “Disneyland was amazing. I went on every roller coaster.”

The trip would have been vastly different if not for Dr. Kao, added Alexandra. “Everywhere you go in the hospital, you see posters talking about patient-focussed care. Dr. Kao and her staff live patient-focussed care. They are incredible.”

Dr. Kao believes that more patients will soon be benefiting from FMT. “We are just at the tip of the iceberg as far as knowing what this treatment can do.”

“This is the ultimate in bench to bedside research,” said Joyce Mallman Law, President of the University Hospital Foundation. “We are proud to partner with Alberta Health Services, the University of Alberta Hospital and the University’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry to support new and innovative research that is literally saving lives.”

In 2013 – 2014, the University Hospital Foundation invested $5.3 million in medical research at the University of Alberta and the University of Alberta Hospital, including $500,000 in the Foundation’s Medical Research Competition.

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