CNN — In February 2016, infectious disease epidemiologist Steffanie Strathdee was holding her dying husband’s hand, watching him lose an exhausting fight against a deadly superbug infection.
After months of ups and downs, doctors had just told her that her husband, Tom Patterson, was too racked with bacteria to live.
“And I have this conversation that nobody ever wants to have with their loved one,” Strathdee told an audience recently at Life Itself, a health and wellness event presented in partnership with CNN.
“I said, ‘Honey, we’re running out of time. I need to know if you want to live. I don’t even know if you can hear me, but if you can hear me and you want to live, please squeeze my hand.’
“And I waited and waited,” she continued, voice cracking. “And all of a sudden, he squeezed really hard. And I thought, ‘Oh, great!’ And then I’m thinking, ‘Oh, crap! What am I going to do?’ “
What she accomplished next could easily be called miraculous. First, Strathdee found an obscure treatment that offered a glimmer of hope – fighting superbugs with phages, viruses created by nature to eat bacteria.
Then she convinced phage scientists around the country to hunt and peck through molecular haystacks of sewage, bogs, ponds, the bilge of boats and other prime breeding grounds for bacteria and their viral opponents. The impossible goal: quickly find the few, exquisitely unique phages capable of fighting a specific strain of antibiotic-resistant bacteria literally eating her husband alive.
Next, the US Food and Drug Administration had to greenlight this unproven cocktail of hope, and scientists had to purify the mixture so that it wouldn’t be deadly.
Yet just three weeks later, Strathdee watched doctors intravenously inject the mixture into her husband’s body – and save his life.
Her journey is one of unrelenting perseverance and unbelievable good fortune. It’s a glowing tribute to the immense kindness of strangers … READ MORE.