2:21 PM EDT, September 27, 2012
SACRAMENTO -- After surviving a near-fatal car accident, Kaitlin Hunter found herself battling a devastating bacterial infection in her colon that also threatened her life.
The persistent infection was beaten through a little-known technique involving the transplant of fecal matter from Hunter's mother, which put healthy bacteria back into her colon.
Following the July procedure, "I've been so happy," said Hunter, 20, of Marietta, Georgia. "I'm cured."
Her struggle began more than a year earlier when she was released from a hospital in Sacramento, California.
A June 2011 car accident fractured her lower spine, lacerated her liver and colon, and broke all 10 toes.
Emergency crews used the Jaws of Life to cut Hunter from her dad's car, and then she was flown to the hospital, where she spent the next month.
Upon her release, Hunter flew home to Georgia. It hadn't been the summer vacation she imagined, but she thought she was getting better.
But "right when I got off the plane, I went to the hospital. I was having extremely bad stomach pain. A month later, we found out it was C. diff," Hunter said, using the abbreviation for the bacteria clostridium difficile.
In the hospital after her accident, doctors followed standard care and put Hunter on antibiotics to prevent an infection.
In spite of the antibiotics -- or possibly because of them -- C. diff infected her colon, causing severe stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting.
Hunter, who stands 5 feet 7 inches tall, lost 40 pounds during her struggle. Her weight plummeted to 85 pounds.
It's believed that antibiotics, which kill harmful infection-causing bacteria, also weaken the beneficial, healthy bacteria percolating in the colon. With the colon's defenses down, C. diff grows rampant, releasing a toxin and inflaming the colon.
C. diff infections kill about 14,000 people in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the number and severity of total cases have increased dramatically over the past decade.
Even though antibiotics put someone at risk of developing a C. diff infection, standard treatment still calls for prescribing more and different antibiotics to kill the C. diff and allow healthy bacteria to recolonize.
But for many people such as Hunter -- who went through nine rounds of antibiotic treatments -- the healthy bacteria never get the upper hand, and the C. diff just keeps coming back.