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How transplanting someone else’s poo into her gut helped a struggling world champion triathlete get her life back on track

25 July 2018

Lesley Paterson was one of the world’s best triathletes — a world championship winner.

But at the height of her powers she contracted the bacterial infection Lyme Disease; its debilitating symptoms threatened to derail her career.

It wasn’t until Lesley underwent a radical procedure to transplant someone else’s poo into her gut that she felt her health beginning to improve.

Faecal Microbial Transplant – Lesley Paterson

Triathlete Lesley Paterson had a Faecal Microbial Transplant to cure her Lyme’s disease

Professional triathlete Lesley was used to a gruelling six-hours-a-day training routine, but she was starting to struggle.

Her muscles ached more than usual and she was regularly nauseous. She started to question “am I going to be able to do it?” and became worried about letting down her sponsors.

A friend knew someone experiencing the same symptoms who was diagnosed with Lyme Disease. Lesley went for a check-up and in 2011 received the same diagnosis.

Reluctant to undertake a course of antibiotics – which has the potential to impact an athlete’s immune system – Lesley decided to undergo a radical treatment called a Faecal Microbial Transplant (FMT).

Faecal Microbial Transplant

Lesley described the treatment as one where you “take someone else’s poo, place it up your butt and adopt their microbiome” — in effect using their healthy bacteria to stimulate your own immune system.

When you go to the bathroom for the first time [after the treatment] you don’t smell like yourself
Lesley Paterson

She noted that there are examples of animals feeding poo to their young to build up their immune systems. “When you’ve felt as bad as I’ve felt,” she added, “you’ll do anything to make yourself feel better.”

To the suggestion that she use a contribution from her husband, Lesley responded with an unequivocal “Hell no!”; her eventual donor remains safely anonymous.

In the days following the transplant, Lesley noticed an improved mood and increased energy levels. She was “able to exercise and not feel totally pooped ...for want of a better word!”

A (slightly sceptical) medical professional’s opinion

Dr Tom Smith – BBC Radio Scotland’s resident GP – expressed concern about FMT being performed in an uncontrolled way or used to treat illnesses for which it isn’t yet certain the procedure will benefit.

He added that the donor cannot have taken antibiotics in the last year and must to be clear of diseases like HIV and hepatitis.

FMT should only be performed in proper clinics and is usually only be for people who have infections involving or caused by C. Difficile, a potentially fatal diarrhoea-inducing illness.

Dr Tom explained that he would have preferred to see Lesley take a course of antibiotics before attempting FMT, as this may have yielded similar results to the radical FMT procedure.

Transplanting faeces from one person to another: a radical solution for hospital superbug C. difficile

Professor Sheena Cruickshank on the effectiveness of faecal transplants on humans

How is Lyme Disease contracted?

Lyme Disease is transferred to humans when a tick bites an infected animal and then bites a human, spreading the disease into the human’s bloodstream.

How to spot the symptoms of Lyme disease

Dr Saleyha Ahsan demonstrates how to reduce the risk and spot the symptoms of Lyme disease

Tick bites: symptoms, prevention and further information

Symptoms of a tick bite can include: a rash that looks like a ‘bullseye’; flu-like symptoms; tingling and numbness in body parts; and (in severe cases) headaches.

Tick bites occur most frequently in woodland areas. The Highlands of Scotland are a particular hot spot.

The best ways to avoid tick bites are to wear socks to cover your lower legs, apply insect repellent and stick to paths rather than walking through the woods.

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