• Gastroenterology Patient Stories

    Life after C. difficile

Dianne Shea thought that the fevers, chills, vomiting, nausea and endless bouts of diarrhea from C. diff would take away her independence. But after a fecal transplant, she says, "My life began again."  

Diane Shea with her fan clubWritten by Dianne Shea

I've been a paraplegic and a Mayo Clinic patient for more than 10 years. My legs decided to stop working over a period of just a few short months due to a spinal tumor. So I didn't think I was a stranger to adversity. Then I met a nasty little bug they call C. difficile. The name is not ironic. At first I thought I had a very violent form of the flu with fevers, chills, vomiting, nausea and (the worst by far) countless, endless bouts of diarrhea.

My days were filled with nothing more than being assisted to the bathroom, cleaning up, getting back into bed, then starting all over again, weaker than before. I required around-the-clock care. I couldn't get dressed, could hardly eat anything, didn't have enough energy to do the smallest of tasks, and couldn't have any fun. Most importantly, I couldn't get through physical therapies for my legs.

I never dared go outside my home (even on holidays) because of the great fear of C. diff acting up. Often my family had to call an ambulance, and I went in and out of hospitals, not staying at  home for any longer than two weeks at a time for the next year. I was terrified that C. diff. would be the thing that made me lose my independence.

I had heard about a new procedure that sounded gross — described as a “fecal transplant” — but that had a huge success rate in solving the C. diff. problem. After losing a year of my life to suffering, I thought I should at least find out about it. And I was put in touch with Dr. Darrell Pardi and Dr. Sahil Khanna from Mayo Clinic.

They were wonderful doctors and educated me on the procedure, its risks and benefits, how it was done, etc. I wanted my transplant as fast as could be arranged! First, I needed a donor. My daughter and son both agreed, but my daughter was the lucky one to go through a few pre-transplant blood tests and checkup. Then I checked into Saint Marys Hospital and did the prep work, which was nothing more than what you would do for a colonoscopy.

The next morning my daughter did her part. (She jokes to this day that she never felt such pressure to do what she does every morning.) Then I was wheeled to the OR. Dr. Pradi had done such a fabulous job preparing me for the procedure that I wasn't worried. The number of doctors and medical personnel that came to the procedure was interesting. I didn't feel, see or hear anything, and the next thing I remember was being told every thing's over, and it all went wonderfully. It wasn't the most fun, but after living with C. diff., it was just another day.

Diane Shea throws out first pitch at Minnesota Twins game.
Diane Shea poses after throwing out the first pitch at a Minnesota Twins baseball game.

I remember lying in my hospital bed holding my breath and waiting for the cramps, chills, fevers and diarrhea to start. Minutes ticked by. Then hours, nothing. I moved around in bed, nothing. I sat up, nothing. I ate a real meal, with salad, fruit and dairy, but not a cramp, pain, or even the urge to use the bathroom. I slept uninterrupted. (Oh, to know what that felt like again!) I went home still waiting for something to happen, and nothing did. Each day I got stronger, healthier and happier. I started to go out, at first for a few minutes, and then I got really brave and went shopping, got my hair done, went to a movie, and went out to lunch (and ate). My life began again!

I didn't realize how ill I had become until I wasn't ill any longer. I didn't have to worry about being out and unprepared anymore. I could go out and focus on having a good time. It was a miracle. Thanks to the doctors and staff of Mayo Clinic and my family, I have my life back again.

My advice to others: Don't suffer with this disease. Don't be afraid of the procedure, don't wait one more minute, and don't suffer any longer. Start living again.

In the video below, Diane shares more of her story.