Staying the course

Featuring in a recent TV programme on the ticking time-bomb of antibiotic resistance highlighted my own plight with the chronic illness cystic fibrosis (CF)*…

Let’s start with the basics… an antibiotic is a term for a drug or other substance used to kill or slow the growth of bacteria. Antibiotics are the bedrock of modern medicine. For 70 years they’ve been at the forefront of our fight against infection.

Since the manufacture of penicillin in 1943, antibiotics have saved millions of lives by combating infections. But there has been no new class of antibiotic developed for more than a quarter of a century. And bugs are battling back.
Through overuse antibiotics are losing their effectiveness. This is becoming a serious and growing phenomenon in contemporary medicine and has emerged as one of the pre-eminent public health concerns of the 21st century.
Resistance is a common yet problematic issue in treating pulmonary exacerbations or infections in people, like me, with CF.

However, despite a push for new antibiotic therapies there has been a continued decline in the number of newly approved drugs.

How does resistance develop?
Antibiotic or drug resistance results from bacteria changing in ways that reduce or eliminate the effectiveness of drugs or other agents used to treat infections. Not all bacteria are bad. However, there are some that can cause infections. As bacteria are exposed to antibiotics over time, resistance may develop, and the number of antibiotics we have to kill the bacteria decreases as well.

With antibiotic resistance, bacteria are now able to survive the use of these drugs meant to kill or weaken them. In effect, each time bacteria are “exposed” to antibiotics, they can change in a way that the antibiotics are no longer effective. So, the most common way resistance is acquired is by exposure to antibiotics. With antibiotic exposure, resistance generally develops overtime. The length of time depends on the bacteria and the antibiotic, which can range from one treatment course to several hundred.

Another way of acquiring resistant bacteria is through contact with other people or equipment when not using appropriate standard and contact precautions. Hand washing, hygiene, and washing of respiratory equipment are vital. The dynamic of cross infection among CF sufferers, getting too close to each other, is such a damaging one.
As well as feeling first-hand the diminishing effect over time of the drugs on my lungs; my doctors would analyse my sputum samples taken during hospital visits to determine the state of my bacteria. In simple terms, if my bacteria are ‘sensitive’ to certain antibiotics then I will be prescribed them and if I am resistant than I won’t.

On a daily basis, I take two different types of oral, two inhaled and one nebulised antibiotic. My CF catch-22 is that I need to be on a substantial amount of antibiotics permanently but this in turn reduces their every-day effectiveness and eventually builds up my resilience to them.

It’s different for CFers as we don’t tend to have a short burst or a week-long course of antibiotics. We tend to stay on certain tablets, inhalers and nebulised antibiotics continuously; sometimes alternating month on, month off with certain medication.

But as portrayed in the TV documentary which shows me with my family and out on a field hockey pitch, these antibiotics are life-savers. In my case, they act as enablers for me to work, play sport, be a husband and father. They are the breath of life for someone with CF.

One dilemma I faced ahead of the filming of my league hockey game was not how telegenic I was, but the fact that the rain clouds were looming and rain and my lungs are not a good match. Just my luck – I’m about to be filmed for a lot of people to view and I’d be wheezing all over the place! After much deliberation, I chose to play despite the rain and hope the cameraman would edit out the inglorious parts.

Holding my nerve
In the simplest cases, drug-resistant organisms may have acquired resistance to first-line antibiotics, thereby necessitating the use of second-line agents. And so it’s proved with me…

There’s a whole raft of ground-breaking antibiotics (oral and IV) that I was prescribed in the 1980’s that are now no longer part of my medical regime. They shone brightly, boosting my lung capacity, then after a while their effect petered out and I had to wait for the next mini-miracle drug to arrive.

I’ve become completely resistant to some drugs and the effect of other medication has reduced over the years as my body has been over-exposed to them.

Am I panicking about this potential antibiotic Armageddon? The answer to that is yes and no! If I dwelled on the likelihood of no more pipeline of medication I would get pretty depressed. But I tend to exist in the ‘here and now’ world where there are still drugs that I’m sensitive to which help me to fight CF.
To use the Forrest Gump vernacular, antibiotics are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get next!

For now, I’ll stay the course, hoping that my drugs keep knocking hell out of the bacteria, while I wait for the next miracle to come my way…

I will keep you posted on my life affirming moments, trials and tribulations as and when they happen. Please keep reading and sharing my blog and sign-up (on the right hand side tab) if you have not already done so.

Yours cup half full.

Tim Wotton

ITV Tonight 24 October: ‘When the drugs don’t work’ documentary (for those in the UK) – See me at 5:10 and at the end (just my section of the programme for those outside of the UK)

I read that Sir John Batten, UK specialist in chest diseases, has recently passed away. This man started the first clinic at the Brompton Hospital for adults with CF. He also trained my previous Doctor Ron Knight. I owe him a huge debt.

Good News – I have found a publisher for my CF-related book and I hope to launch it during Spring 2014… I’ll keep you posted!

* Cystic Fibrosis is one of the UK’s most common life threatening inherited diseases, affecting over 9,000 people. The condition affects the internal organs, especially the lungs and digestive system, by clogging them with thick sticky mucus. This makes it hard to breathe and digest food. Each week, five babies are born with the condition, however, each week, three young lives are also lost to it. There is currently no cure for CF. However, existing gene therapy trials in the UK are bringing people with the illness closer to a form of cure but CF is not that well known and would benefit from more public donations. For more information and to find out more view the CF Trust Website.


About Tim Wotton

I live with my lovely wife (Katie) and spirited ten-year old son (Felix) in Morden, Surrey; working full-time as an internal communications specialist in the Oil & Gas sector. I have played sport, particularly hockey, tennis all my life and now regularly go to the gym. Cystic fibrosis has been a huge factor in my life, but not one that overshadows it. I have always had great support from my loving family - parents Margaret and Douglas (RIP), elder brother Chris and my twin brother Jez. I have many rich life insights based on knowing I have a reduced life expectancy and battling against the odds for over 44 years. My eyes and heart have been opened by my health struggle. I feel empowered to share my life lessons to help anyone with health and life issues to overcome. My passions include Paul Smith clothes, dress shirts (believing that it's enlightening to dress like it's your last day on earth), Alfa Romeo cars, spicey food, Harlequins and England rugby, Southampton FC, Wimbledon village and common, Dorset, seascapes, sunsets and military history. I am available for public speaking on this subject matter and can be contacted via timwottonAThotmailDOTcom. I have written a book 'How have I cheated death?' based on my euphoric countdown year to 40 which was published in 2014 and won the 2015 'Best Achievement' Award at the UK People's Book Prize. It is available via e-book, audiobook and paperback at Amazon and to order from UK bookstores. Go to the relevant sites below or in the UK go to a WH SMITH, Waterstones or Foyles bookstore and give them my name, book title and this ISBN number (9781849637190). It’s also available via GARDNER’S, BERTRAM’S, AUSTINMACAULEY.COM, BLACKWELL’S, PLAY.COM, AMAZON.CO.UK AND AMAZON.COM
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6 Responses to Staying the course

  1. Olivia says:

    That’s why when Jeff has his annual bout of pneumonia, he is prescribed a powerful antibiotic (something -penem), for which his doctors need approval from the CDC.

    In the four years I’ve known him he’s changed Abx combinations at least 3 times. This year he was switched from Cayston to Meropenem and something else to Fortaz (ceftazidime). There’ve been so many, I forget.

    Fortunately, this autumn he’s stayed healthy. He jumped on the flu shot as soon as it came out. He spent Sept and Oct free of extra congestion, coughing, production, and so nothing occurred to develop into pneumonia! This, despite living a year in the new (old) house with carpets, a dog, a lawn to mow and leaves to blow. Miracle!

  2. Olivia says:

    Both of you are miracles for surviving into your 40s in relatively good health. Just hang on and maintain until the new Vertex drugs come out!

    Btw, although we live in a fairly humid part of the country, I’ve noticed that in higher humidity conditions, especially with heavy warm rains and when water vapor is actually visible hanging in the air, Jeff coughs more. I think it’s because the extra moisture inhaled gets the gunk moving.

    • Tim Wotton says:

      Dear Olivia,
      Great to hear from you again and I’m so glad you and Jeff are doing well. Especially glad to hear that he is feeling pretty well. We both know that it’s never a given!
      I am prone to coughing a bit more in extra humid conditions so it’s sounds a similar scenario for us both.
      Take good care (as always)

  3. Lesley P says:

    Thankyou as always Tim. God Bless. Lesley. x

  4. sue kruk says:

    Hi Tim, As always, interesting and informative, and the TV appearance was great. I wrote to your Mum ! Here in the Portsmouth area, we’d be pleased to display your book, when it comes out. Well done. Would love to have a chat some time.

    • Tim Wotton says:

      Dear Sue, Good to hear from you and I’m glad you found the blog post of interest. Thanks for the offer of giving my forthcoming book some promotion in Portsmouth (just don’t mention I’m from Southampton!).

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