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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

I thought I had the flu. Then I almost died.

May 29, 2024 03:27PM ● By Carrie Bourdow

When I got hit one day with a bout of lethargy and lack of appetite, my first thought was that I’d picked up a bug from my kids, as mothers do all the time. But I only got worse. 

I finally went to see my doctor, who recommended a chest X-ray. I was stubbornly convinced my problem wasn’t that serious, so I decided to try powering through.

Big mistake. Days later, I was at the emergency room, where the chest X-ray showed one lung completely overrun with a bacterial infection. By this time, I was in septic shock and my body was shutting down. I was admitted to the ICU and put on a feeding tube.

Doctors administered multiple rounds of first-line antibiotics. None worked. I couldn’t walk and lost 20 pounds. They were about to put me on a ventilator when the only antibiotic they had left finally began to clear my infection. I’ve never been more grateful for the gifts of health and family.

My story ended happily. Others aren’t so lucky. Superbugs contributed to 173,000 U.S. deaths in 2019—the third leading cause of death from disease. Globally, antimicrobial resistance contributes to nearly 5 million deaths a year.

The problem is escalating. Common and treatable bacterial infections like UTIs or staph can morph into a hospital stay or death sentence.

In some ways, the solution is simple: develop more antibiotics to treat these ever-evolving infections. We have the scientific expertise. But the market for antibiotics doesn’t support doing so.

Doctors must prescribe antibiotics only when necessary and save newer ones for infections that won’t respond to first-line treatments. Unfortunately, these medical best practices imply that hospitals purchase the newest antibiotics only in small quantities—too small to recoup investment costs for their development.

Many companies struggle to develop new antibiotics like the one that saved my life. Eight antibiotics developed by small companies received FDA approval in the last decade. Today, every company behind those antibiotics has filed for bankruptcy or was forced to sell or downsize.

These failures are discouraging. But they signal that the scientific challenge is one we can meet. A bill under consideration in Congress can provide just that.

The PASTEUR Act, co-sponsored by Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, would establish a subscription-style model for novel antimicrobials. The government would contract with successful developers, providing a set annual payment in exchange for access to their antimicrobial.

Even if the medicine is rarely prescribed, the company would have the financial stability to cover development costs and invest in new research. Most importantly, patients will have access to antibiotics when they need them.

I’m beyond grateful that my doctors had a then-new antibiotic to treat my infection. If Congress passes PASTEUR, new antibiotics could save more lives—including yours. 


Carrie Bourdow is a superbug survivor and the CEO of Trevena.