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Article originally published Spring 2024 in The Monitor magazine.

A Healing Journey

In March 2024, Susan Nixon-Stoughton embarked on a nine-day vacation that she had been eagerly awaiting for months. Her first stop was California, where she visited Hollywood Studios, Disneyland and The Price is Right studios with her sister Jennifer Muszynski and niece Lilian Muszynski. The trio then flew to Florida, where they met up with Susan and Jennifer’s husbands for a few more days of relaxation and fun. 

While Susan has been on many vacations throughout her lifetime, her most recent one was especially memorable because it was the first trip she was able to take since successfully undergoing treatment for C. diff at Fairfield Medical Center. C. diff is a bacteria that causes diarrhea and inflammation of the colon. For four long months during the fall of 2023, Susan suffered from severe and near-constant diarrhea and nausea that made it nearly impossible for her to leave her home for more than a few hours, much less travel.

What is C. Diff?

“At one point during all of this, my husband said, ‘I can’t believe you haven’t lost your mind,’” Susan said. “I know that’s because of the team caring for me at Fairfield Medical Center. They got me through it and made sure I had the best possible care so I could stay out of the hospital and get back to living my life.”

Susan’s C. diff was caused by a round of antibiotics that had been prescribed to treat an infection in her tonsils. Within a day of finishing the antibiotics, Susan began experiencing frequent diarrhea and nausea. The symptoms continued for almost a week when, at the urging of her husband, Tom, and her sister, she decided to go to the Emergency Department at FMC’s River Valley Campus. A C. diff diagnosis was quickly confirmed. “I cannot stress enough the importance of taking a probiotic when you are on an antibiotic,” Susan said. “I wasn’t doing that, so the antibiotics killed the infection in my tonsils, as well as my good gut bacteria.” 

Susan’s primary care provider referred her to Andrew Dagg-Murry, MD, of Fairfield Healthcare Professionals Infectious Disease. Susan said the office immediately made her feel comfortable in the midst of a difficult diagnosis. “I never felt like any question I asked was a dumb one,” Susan said. “They were always calm, cool and collected. Even if Dr. Dagg-Murry wasn’t in, they would get a note to him, and I never waited more than an hour to get an answer back.”

Dr. Dagg-Murry’s goal right from the start was to keep Susan out of the hospital. He set her up with magnesium infusions and prescribed a round of antibiotics to treat the infection – but the relief was short-lived. 

“I’d get through the 10 days of meds and would be feeling good, and then it would start again,” Susan said.

Dr. Dagg-Murry said it’s not uncommon for C. diff patients to experience reoccurrences. “C. diff can often not fully resolve; the patient gets better on treatment, but then may get ill again off the antibiotics, usually with the same symptoms of the original illness,” he said. “Patients with this amount of diarrhea are very uncomfortable, and it’s hard to plan trips or even to go to work.”

Quote - SusanFollowing the second reccurrence, Dr. Dagg-Murry and his team knew they needed to pursue a different treatment option for Susan, who was now heading into her third month of sickness. By this time, she could barely eat a meal without having to immediately excuse herself to go to the bathroom. 

In addition to her symptoms, Susan struggled with feelings of isolation. She had missed a favorite fall event – the Fairfield County Fair – as well as a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, to watch her and Tom’s nephew get married. She also postponed a trip to Germany in November to watch her nephew play professional basketball. 

As the executive director of The Lighthouse, a local domestic violence shelter, she was able to do most of her work from home, but relied heavily on Tom to assist her with daily pickups, deliveries and other work-related errands. 

“On the few times I did get together with my coworkers, we met at Rising Park in the shelter house where there was enough space for me to distance myself and there were restrooms available,” Susan said. “If I was leaving the house for anything – a meeting, a doctor’s appointment – I could not eat or drink anything beforehand.”

Dr. Dagg-Murry recommended Susan undergo a new treatment at FMC called Rebyota. Approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2022, Rebyota is medication that is administered rectally as a single dose and is prepared from donated stool that can restore healthy bacteria in the patient’s system.

Heather Luttrell, RN, BSN, of FMC’s Endoscopy Department, administers Rebyota to patients and always meets with them first to discuss the process. She said patients are very rarely turned off at the thought of receiving donor stool.

“Most everyone who has had C. diff in the past will do anything to prevent it from coming back,” Heather said. “I refer to Rebyota as a medication. I make sure the patient understands the process and that it is donated stool, but I also explain that it has gone through rigorous testing and is ensured to have the right microbiome, or ‘good’ bacteria, for the patient.”

Excited at the prospect of finally getting relief from her condition, Susan was ready to receive the treatment – but she had a major hurdle to navigate first. Her insurance initially denied the procedure on the grounds that she wasn’t “sick enough” because she hadn’t been hospitalized during her illness. Susan called Dr. Dagg-Murry, who immediately got involved.

“He called the insurance company and advocated for me,” she said. “The next thing I knew, it was happening. I got a call on Wednesday that it was approved, and I had the procedure that Friday.”

Susan ended up being one of the first patients at FMC to receive Rebyota. She described the treatment as “flawless” and said Heather went above and beyond to make the experience as comfortable as possible. 

“I knew what I was walking into and exactly how it was going to go,” Susan said. “Heather said she would talk with me throughout the treatment or I could just rest. We ended up talking the entire time. She took away any anxiety I was feeling.”

The results of the Rebyota were immediate, and 10 days later, Susan was able to celebrate Christmas Eve with her family at St. Mary’s Church in Lancaster – her first public outing where she didn’t have to worry about her symptoms. 

“At one point during the mass, my nephew handed me his newborn daughter and my eyes immediately filled with tears,” Susan said. “I looked over at my husband and said, ‘I’m finally back out among the living.’”

Susan's - Care Team