Power of Poop: Fecal Transplants Offering Innovative Treatment for Mayo Clinic Patients

Stephanie Bennett with VICE reporter Thomas Morton.
Stephanie Bennett with VICE reporter Thomas Morton.

Here at In the Loop, we often cover stories making headlines, adding our own spin and some thoughts from those making news. Since Stephanie Bennett, an intern in our department, is one of the subjects in tomorrow’s episode of the TV show VICE and has a great story to tell, we figured we’d let her do all the work this time.

In September 2015, I woke up to uncontrollable nausea and constant diarrhea. After these symptoms persisted for a week, I started to worry. I felt frail, was losing weight, and had a complete loss of appetite. At the time, I was attending school at the University of Iowa, and it was hard to get back home to Chicago to see my primary care physician. So for eight weeks, I was vomiting and having abnormal bowel movements up to 10 times a day.  

When I returned home in late November, a stool sample test showed that I had contracted a bacterium called Clostridium difficile, commonly known as C. diff. I immediately went through a series of antibiotic treatments. I thought my symptoms up to that point were bad. They got worse. I was too weak to get out of bed for 14 days, lost more weight, and couldn’t keep anything in my stomach besides water. After three rounds of antibiotics, the C. diff bacteria still prevailed.

I felt like my final option was to seek assistance at Mayo Clinic. I needed to rid my body of this horrid bacteria, which had taken control of me for 28 weeks and caused me to lose 25 pounds.

I contacted Glenn Alexander, M.D., a gastroenterology specialist at Mayo Clinic. He immediately referred me to Sahil Khanna, M.B.B.S., who was conducting a clinical research trial on fecal microbiota transplant. In the procedure, researchers takes healthy donor's feces, blend it into what they call a "slurry," and place it into an unhealthy person’s colon, where the good fecal bacteria overcome the bad bacteria. At first, I was grossed out, as anyone might be. Thinking about the relief I would have post-transplant, however, outweighed any of the unpleasant thoughts.

Along the way, I was approached by Mayo’s Public Affairs team about the opportunity to be featured in an episode of the HBO series VICE about the miracles fecal matter can do in the human body. I agreed, hoping to spread awareness of this unconventional treatment.

The VICE team followed me throughout my experience, beginning with my initial consultation all the way through the procedure. I was a bit skeptical at first about letting a camera crew videotape me in such a personal environment, but the VICE team made me feel comfortable and presented my experience in a fun and innovative way. They asked how I was doing, checked to see if I was at all uncomfortable with what they were filming, and even teased me with food a few times — all in good fun.

My favorite part of the experience was to see and film the fecal "slurry" being made and being handed over to me in the procedure room. Many would think this was the grossest part, but for me, it was awesome to be able to see what was going to cure me.

Within a week, all of my symptoms disappeared, and I could resume a normal life. Fecal microbiota transplant has a 90 percent success rate in curing C. diff. Who knows what else it might be able to cure? There are endless possibilities through the power of poop!

As the VICE episode approaches, I tell anyone willing to listen that I think fecal transplants are going to be the next big thing in the medical world. A lot of people are fascinated by this genius, yet relatively simple, idea. I'm still amazed by it every day.

With the help of HBO’s VICE, you can check out this ground-breaking clinical trial this Friday, June 24, at 10 p.m. CDT. You can see VICE's preview of the segment below. (Remember, it's HBO.) Then share your comments, and share this story with others.