Marie Myung-Ok Lee knows how to write about shit. Of course, in her op-ed piece for the New York Times, she’s not just casually talking about poop: she’s discussing a medical procedure that profoundly improved (and possibly saved) her friend’s life.
Lee donated her stool to her Gene (not his real name). Yes, you read that correctly. Her stool. Gene had been suffering from ulcerative colitis—and when I say suffering, I mean it: a colon ridden with bleeding ulcers, causing intensely painful cramping, bloody diarrhea, and stomach pain. While doctors tried different steroid treatments to help him, his symptoms only continued to worsen. After a period of time where he lost a significant amount of weight (he couldn’t eat or drink much of anything) and was facing either a complete colectomy or intense drugs—both options not guaranteed to work—Gene decided to explore other options.
The point of fecal microbiota transplant (FMT) isn’t putting digested food into another person’s colon. It’s the bacteria in the stool that’s sought after. The gastrointestinal system is a carefully balanced machine, employing a plethora of bacteria to keep things in check. When the bacteria get out of whack, a lot of other things will as well. Because there are so many different strands of bacteria involved, it’s hard for scientists to synthetically replace them. The easiest way is to take bacteria from a healthy, balanced source—someone else’s stool.
Gene decided to try FMT and asked Lee to be the donor (I can only imagine how that conversation went!). Lee agreed—she fit the bill of a good donor perfectly by being regular, eating healthy, and an amazing friend. The donations had to be rather fresh and frequent (Gene was advised by his doctor to do at-home stool enemas every day), meaning that Lee and Gene had some quality time that not many friends have experienced.
Amazingly, Gene felt better immediately after his first enema. Lee doesn’t mention how long the at-home enemas took place, but they improved Gene’s health enough that he was able to travel to his doctor and receive a full FMT that has left him ulcer and symptom free.
There’s still a lot of research to be done on FMT, and it can still be a challenge to find doctors to do the procedure (as well as donors). As gross as poop can be, FMT is helping people heal—and that really is the shit.
Original Article via nytimes.com
Images via nytimes.com and scrubs.wikia.com