ATLANTA - Four-year old Avery Lee's checkup with Dr. Jeffery Lewis begins with a magic lesson which is kind of fitting, from a doctor whose medical magic trick may have saved Avery's life.
John and Amy Lee's oldest daughter was just 3 in January of 2014, when she developed a sinus infection.
Amy Lee says, "We said, ‘Let's just go ahead and do a round of antibiotics and wipe it out.’"
The antibiotic worked, but it destroyed the healthy bacteria in Avery's gut, opening the door to a dangerous germ known as Clostridium difficile, or C.diff. Amy Lee explains, "C. diff is an opportunistic bacteria. So when an antibiotic wipes out your good bacteria, it takes the opportunity to take over your gut. And that's what it did in Avery's case."
John Lee says, "We really had no idea what Avery was up against."
Almost overnight, Avery was racked by severe abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, and stomach cramps so powerful she'd cry out in pain. In and out of the hospital in Macon, she was given round after round of strong antibiotics. But just 2-3 days after she’d stop taking them, the C.diff would come back.
John Lee says, "Three months went by. Three months later, four months later, she was still dealing with it."
Amy says, "It was excruciatingly painful to see her that way. And then to also know the "fix" wasn't fixing it."
After six months, Avery was running out of options. Amy Lee says, "If we didn't get a transplant, she was going to die." Listen, John Lee says, "Thank God Dr. Lewis was put in our path."
Because, at GI Care for Kids in Atlanta, Dr. Lewis was teaming up with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta to get permission to perform Georgia's first fecal transplant on Avery.
The concept, Dr. Lewis says, is simple. He says, "What they've found is that if you take healthy bacteria from a healthy person, who has not been on antibiotics, and you place that into the digestive tract, the C. diff magically goes away. We're talking about 90-95% response rates."
On July 3, 2014, Avery was sedated for an outpatient colonoscopy, allowing Dr. Lewis to place a small amount of healthy stool – overnighted from a Boston stool bank - into her large intestine, the C.diff stronghold. Dr. Lewis says, "You're putting a whole new rainforest in. You're putting a whole new ecosystem of balance in. So, it's the ultimate probiotic. The bacteria takes hold, it starts to repopulate."
John Lee remembers, "We went home that afternoon and I think she took a very, very long nap. And within a few days, normal bowel movements resumed, and it was a miracle."
Because Avery Lee hasn't been sick since. Her mom says, "It's incredible how many people a fecal transplant can save, and help, and cure. And give life again. She literally got her life back."
Avery was the first child in Georgia to undergo a fecal transplant. Nineteen more have followed in her footsteps. Right now, the procedure is considered experimental and is only FDA-approved for children with recurrent C.diff infections.