Woman's life saved by fecal transplant procedure at Roper St. Francis

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - A mother and medical professional seemed to be the picture of joy on the outside, but on the inside she was harboring a sickness in the pit of her stomach -- and the cure was something unexpected.

On an average day, Angie Nix is a bubbly mom full of personality. She spends her day managing the practice of Dr. Anthony Firilas, a colorectal surgeon at Roper St. Francis.

In April, her laughter was silenced by a relentless bout with C. diff colitis.

"People would be like, 'What is wrong with you?'" said Nix. "I'd just be like, 'I just don't feel good. I just don't feel good.'"

Nix pushed through the sickness for two months. After three rounds of treatments, Nix says the sickness came back.

"I was sort of in denial," said Nix. "He gave me medicine and he said, 'Take the medicine, you'll feel better.' And, I did feel better but I didn't finish the medicine like I was supposed to. And probably about a week later I ended up in the emergency room."

Nix fought stomach cramps, diarrhea, fever, and chills until she says she just couldn't take them any longer. {}{}

"I equated it to the beginning of labor. Just that constant gnarl in your stomach," Nix said. "I would cry. I'm not a crier. I would break down and cry."

Oddly enough, Nix soon became a patient of the doctor with whom she works. {}

"It was dramatic. It was really dramatic," said Dr. Firilas. "She is normally a happy go lucky, joking, jovial person - always with a positive outlook. But when she was going through this she was just miserable."

Dr. Firilas diagnosed her with Clostridium difficile, also known as C. diff colitis. Since medication was not working, a fecal transplant was recommended.

"It's instilling a preparation of someone else's feces to get all the good microbes that they need to fight off the infection - processed to a liquid form in order to instill it through a colonoscope," said Ellen Antognioni, a fecal transplant coordinator who recommended the procedure.

"This therapy is not a new therapy. It's actually been known for quite a long time and known to be effective. Over the years, I'd say over the last 5 to 10 years, we've seen increasing incidents of this condition and worse and worse cases of it," said Firilas.

Out of desperation, Nix opted to have it done.

"It is something you just have to wrap your head around and you have to say to yourself, 'How sick am I?'" Nix said. "'Am I so sick that I think I'm going to die?' And I was so sick that I thought this is the rest of my life."

Three days late, Nix went under the scope. A donor's fecal matter was frozen and shipped to Roper St. Francis.

"Donor No. 37. That's all I know," Nix said proudly.

The fecal matter is thawed then poured into a tube. It was placed in her colon during a routine colonoscopy.

"They put you to sleep. It takes about 15 mins and you wake up. There's no pain, nothing. You just have to lay on one side for a couple of hours and then you go home," Nix said.

"Essentially what the lining of your colon is missing, the good bacteria, is restored because we take healthy, normal fecal flora, restore it into the lining of the colon, let it grow back up in there and it out beats the C-diff and you get better."

Within hours of the procedure, Nix says she was back to feeling like her old self.

"A day, day-and-a-half later, I'm feeling super. I'm feeling great. I'm bossing my husband around," said Nix, laughing.

The magic of modern medicine finally paid off for Nix, no matter how taboo it seemed.

"It's truly a miracle for me," she said. "And I just thought it was really important -- even if it's embarrassing that I talk about it."

Roper St. Francis and the Medical University of South Carolina both perform fecal transplants.{}For now at Roper St. Francis, it only costs the price of a regular colonoscopy.

Unfortunately, stool donors can only donate in the city of Boston.

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