NORTH RICHLAND HILLS -- The last time Maria Ford saw her doctor, she couldn't stand upright and could barely walk, the pain was so bad.
"It's bad like having a child," Ford explained of the abdominal pain she suffered. "I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy."
Ford started having severe abdominal pain after having her gallbladder removed in December. She went to the emergency room and was diagnosed with Clostridium Difficile, or C. diff.
C. diff is a bacteria that exists naturally in everyone's gut. Sometimes taking antibiotics can kill good bacteria and cause C. diff to grow out of control and become toxic.
"For some reason when we use the antibiotics it spreads and produces a lot of diarrhea, abdominal pain and dehydration," explains family practice Dr. Isaac Watemberg. "And get the person very sick."
C. diff can be mild to life-threatening. Symptoms of mild cases include watery diarrhea, three or more times a day for several days, with abdominal pain. More severe infections can cause watery diarrhea up to 15 times each day, severe abdominal pain, loss of appetite, fever, bloody stool, and weight loss.
In some cases, C. diff infections can lead to a hole in the intestines, which can be fatal.
According to the CDC, C. diff sickens more than 100,000 Americans annually, and kills an estimated 14,000. It is considered to be a top public health threat.
Older people, those who take antibiotics regularly, and patients in hospitals are considered the highest at risk.
A phase 3 clinical trial for a vaccine to prevent C. diff is underway nationwide.
"We're looking for patients who are over 50 years of age," explained Olivia Ray, CEO of Ventavia Research Group. "And who have had at least two hospitalizations over the last 12 months, or they are planning an upcoming surgery in the next two or three months."
Olivia Ray says the FDA wants to fast-track this potentially life-saving vaccine. It's hoped the study will enroll enough volunteers in the next two to three months.
"We believe this could save lives," says Ray.
Maria Ford didn't die, but felt as though she would.
"It took a toll on my life," Ford said. "People couldn't come around. It's very, very contagious."
It took five trips to the hospital and months of isolation before she recovered from the agony of C-diff.