An unorthodox cure

Local doctor performs fecal transplants to treat vicious superbug
Gastroenterologist Paul F. Schleinitz holds up a colonoscope at Rogue Valley Medical Center Thursday. Schleinitz performs fecal transplant procedures at local hospitals to combat the nasty superbug Clostridium difficile. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie LuschJamie Lusch

The thought of having another person's stool injected into your body might reach 10 on the yuck-o-meter for most people.

However, once you've spent seven months stricken with a bacterial infection that sends you scurrying to the bathroom more than 20 times a day, you'll consider almost anything to be rid of it.

Gastroenterologist Paul Schleinitz, who performs fecal transplant procedures at local hospitals, has dedicated himself to the fight against the nasty superbug Clostridium difficile, aka C. diff.

"I have become quite a student of stool," he said.

C. diff takes over your intestines once other bacteria have been eliminated by antibiotics. It causes extreme diarrhea and intestinal bleeding that wrecks the sufferer's quality of life, Schleinitz said.

Nancy, who does not want to give her last name for privacy reasons, was a C. diff victim following back surgery in 2009. Her wound became severely infected, forcing doctors to inject her with antibiotics to save her life.

The antibiotics worked — perhaps too well. They killed all of the bacteria in her colon except the C. diff, which promptly took over her intestinal tract.

"I was so sick that as soon as I ate something, 20 minutes later it had gone through my system," Nancy said. "I couldn't do anything some days except lay on my bathroom floor."

Nancy was treated with other antibiotics, but nothing seemed to fight off the C. diff. Then one day she spoke with a member of her church whose own bout with C. diff was cleared up by a fecal transplant procedure performed by Schleinitz.

"It did sound gross to me," Nancy said. "But when you have C. diff, you are willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of it."

While Rogue Valley Medical Center in Medford was in the process of clearing the procedure to be preformed in the hospital, Schleinitz decided to invite Nancy to his office for the transplant.

The donor was Nancy's husband. "He was grateful to do it because he had seen me suffer for so long," Nancy said.

The 15-minute procedure involves mixing the donated stool with a saline solution and injecting it straight into the patient's intestine. Two days later, Nancy was feeling better; two weeks later she was back to her normal diet.

Schleinitz said the donated bacteria tends to stick around and C. diff relapses don't seem to be a problem.

"Once you get past the idea of someone else's stool in your body, the improvement is almost immediate," he said.

C. diff can be treated by medicine most of the time. It's only a small portion of the population who requires the fecal transplant procedure to return to health, he said.

Rogue Valley Medical Center now allows Schleinitz to perform the transplant in the hospital after enough literature and testimony were produced stating its validity.

Schleinitz has performed the transplant on people ranging in age from 34 to 85.

Nancy said the procedure cost just more than $200, much lower than the $14,000 in antibiotics used to fight the infection over the course of several months.

The best donors are family members who share similar diet and have the same bacteria and viruses living in their intestines, Schleinitz said.

Nancy is able to laugh about her ordeal now that she can lead a normal life.

"I joke with my husband by saying I'm not going to take anymore of his crap," she said. "There's some things you never think you will share with your spouse."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail

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