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The Excrement Experiment

One morning last fall, Jon Ritter, an architectural historian living in Greenwich Village, woke to find an e-mail from a neighbor, who had an unusual request. “Hi Jon, This is Tom Gravel, from Apt. 4N,” the e-mail began. “I wanted to check in and see if you may be open to helping me with a health condition.” Gravel, a project manager for a land-conservation group, explained that he had Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of the intestinal tract along with unpredictable, often incapacitating episodes of abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. His doctor had prescribed a succession of increasingly powerful drugs, none of which had helped. But recently Gravel had experimented with a novel therapy that, though distasteful to contemplate, seemed to relieve his symptoms: fecal transplantation, in which stool from a healthy person is transferred to the colon of someone who is sick. He hoped to enlist Ritter as a stool donor.

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