In our continuing series with members of the Peggy Lillis Foundation, here is an opportunity to hear about people’s experiences, lessons learned, and the new treatments that can lead to hope and not the hopelessness people have been living with during their ordeals.
In 2017, Mollie Lauck, NP, was in the hospital for the birth of her son. Although she had a difficult pregnancy—suffering from preeclampsia and had gestational diabetes—it was supposed to be a time of joy and new beginnings. While she was in the hospital, Lauck was on intravenous magnesium for her preeclampsia, and one of its side effects is diarrhea so she was not surprised when she had a bout of it in the hospital. She was also on metformin for her diabetes, and was transitioning from being on insulin in the pregnancy to being on maintenance medication, and there were gastrointestinal side effects associated with them.
“So initially, I was not alarmed. But my symptoms kept persisting. I had developed postpartum anxiety and depression and was put on medication for that to help me manage,” Lauck said. “And again, they come with GI side effects. So all of this was chalked up to expected side effects of medications and the fact that I may or may not have had sensitive stomach. I also have ulcerative colitis.”
Still her symptoms persisted for 3 months, and even after seeing her gastroenterologist, primary care provider (PCP), and obstetrician-gynecologist, none of them suspected C diff. Lauck who is a nurse practitioner herself, didn’t think so either. Lauck had been familiar with C diff, even testing patients for it, but it didn’t occur to her that she was at risk for it because she was younger and was not on immunosuppressants. Ultimately, she had a perfect storm of risk factors that likely led her to this healthcare associated infection.
“The truth of the matter is, I was actually the perfect candidate for it,” Lauck said. “I was hospitalized, I had general anesthesia and interoperative antibiotics during my C-section…Pregnancy itself is actually a state of being immunocompromised. The body's immune system kind of slows itself down when you're pregnant in an effort to protect the baby so that it does not view it as something that should be attacked. I was also briefly on antibiotics after I left the hospital for a urinary tract infection…And I think it was the combination of all of that.”
She finally spoke to her PCP and requested a C diff test. She was holding her young son in her arms when she received the diagnosis over the phone, and began to cry after she hung up.
“I think they may have been tears of relief, because I finally had an answer,” Lauck said. “But they were tears of great sadness, because I knew the battle ahead of me. C diff is a difficult organism to kill, it is not impossible. But it requires very steady treatment, and a lot of cleaning and preventative measures within your home and personal environments. I also had an infant son and husband that I did not want to get sick. I'm very grateful that in all of this, my husband nor my son, nor any of my close family members acquired any illness.”
Her bout with C diff was approximately a year, off and on. She was prescribed flagyl initially and it was not effective. She was then prescribed vancomycin, which was effective, but she noted it had a short half-life and was expensive. She also saw her symptoms return every time she finished her regimen. She knew she needed a long-term solution. She contacted an infectious disease specialist and she credits her for saving her life.
“It was her intelligence and her compassion that truly made all the difference in the care that I needed,” Lauck said.
The program the specialist work for offered fecal transplants. Lauck did it the day after Christmas, almost a year after her son was born.
“When I made the decision to do this, I felt very confident. Fecal transplants have a very good success rate…And for me, it truly made all the difference.”
In the first segment of a 2-part interview, Lauck spoke about her experience, her treatment, and the psychological effects and difficulties around living with C diff.
Contagion is working with the Peggy Lillis Foundation on this series and we will be posting more conversations with people about their lives with C diff.