A former soldier has become a ‘human beer keg’ after a bizarre medical condition that causes his stomach to turn food into alcohol after every meal.
Ray Lewis, 48, suffers from Auto-brewery Syndrome (ABS), which can leave him paralytic after eating.
The former US army paratrooper, from Eugene, Oregon, lost his job as a truck driver after he overturned a vehicle ‘under the influence’ and is fighting a DUI conviction.
His wife Sierra even feared he was an alcoholic and banned him from accessing his bank account to buy drinks until he was eventually diagnosed after two years of ‘drunkenness’.
Unable to work, Mr Lewis is cared for by his wife and fitted with a GPS tracker in case he gets ‘intoxicated’ and wanders off.
He said: ‘Most people have laughed at us when we say the words “auto-brewery”. They only stop making jokes when they realise it is not a joke and that we are both suffering. It has the same physiological effects on the body as lifelong binge drinking.
‘I used to be an avid outdoorsman. But it’s almost impossible to lead that life now.’
Ray Lewis is a ‘human beer keg’ as his bizarre medical condition causes him to produce alcohol
His wife Sierra (pictured) feared he was an alcoholic and banned him for buying alcohol
After suffering years of ‘drunkness’ he was eventually diagnosed with Auto-brewery Syndrome
WHAT IS AUTO-BREWERY SYNDROME?
Auto-brewery syndrome (ABS) causes sufferers to feel intoxicated and unable to perform simple tasks.
It usually occurs due to yeast accumulating in the intestines after the sufferer ingests sugar.
The syndrome occurs when a sufferers’ yeast in their intestines grow out of control, possibly following a course of antibiotics.
ABS may also be caused by abnormal enzymes in the liver.
Anyone of any age can suffer.
ABS is so rare its prevalence is unknown.
There is no cure.
Avoiding sugar and carbohydrates may help to control symptoms, as well as frequently monitoring a sufferer’s blood alcohol content.
Source: Gundry MD
‘It smells like someone has smashed a vodka bottle’
Mr Lewis, who has been out of work since overturning a truck carrying 11,000 salmon while working for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in December 2014, said: ‘Most people have laughed at us when we say the words “auto-brewery”. They only stop making jokes when they realise it is not a joke and that we are both suffering.
‘It has the same physiological effects on the body as lifelong binge drinking. The body’s organs don’t know or care where the booze originates.
‘The triggers can be infuriatingly inconsistent, but I can’t eat sugary snacks or carb-rich foods I used to enjoy.
‘Obviously drinking is out too, but I wouldn’t want to do that. Getting drunk without knowing when or why is just horrible.’
Sierra, who runs a soap business alongside looking after her husband, said: ‘I only leave him alone at home when I must go to work in town. I rarely leave his side for long.
‘I got a GPS tracking device that is clipped to his backpack if I have to leave him unattended in public.
‘One minute he is fine and the next it smells like someone has smashed a vodka bottle on the ground.
Mr Lewis can be paralytic after eating a meal (pictured with his diagnosis confirmation)
His wife cares for him and fitted Mr Lewis with a GPS tracker in case he wanders when ‘drunk’
His condition means he must have a protein-only diet, with no sugar or carbohydrates
Fighting a DUI conviction
After battling alcoholism symptoms for years, Mr Lewis’ diagnosis finally came in September 2015 and he has since been fighting to overturn his DUI conviction.
In the meantime, he and Sierra are still struggling to adapt to his life as an ‘alcoholic’.
Mr Lewis said: ‘I used to be an avid outdoorsman. I learned to fish before I could walk and am always most content in the middle of nowhere. But it’s almost impossible to lead that life now.
‘I have to self-test for BAC [blood alcohol content] ten times a day and then again if someone asks me to.
‘I’m getting better at noticing when flare-ups are starting, but I can go upstairs for five minutes and before I have started to come back down I’m unable to walk or talk.
‘Spikes leave me unsteady and very confused, to the point where I lose track of time and forget to eat or drink.’
Mr Lewis has to check his blood alcohol content daily and often suffers with dizziness
Symptoms began in 2013 and included nausea, sweating and repeating conversations
Sierra must drive for him and help him do chores (pictured with his medical history files)
‘I thought if he was a closet alcoholic’
Mr Lewis began experiencing ABS symptoms in late 2013, including feeling nauseous, sweaty and repeating conversations up to five times a day.
Yet alarm bells did not truly start ringing until he his driving accident in December 2014.
Sierra said: ‘Ray’s symptoms became much more consistent and obvious after I initiated a “detox” diet. I thought if he was a closet alcoholic he was going to have a hell of a time drinking in secret with no access to his bank accounts and unable to drive himself to the store.
‘He was still seriously injured from the accident and needed help with daily chores.
‘He would suddenly be intoxicated after spending hours within arms-reach of me as he helped me sell my soaps at various craft fairs.
‘We were working side-by-side for eight to 10 hours straight, eating the same exact foods and sharing beverage cups. I had no idea what was going on.’
The couple only came across ABS when a friend mentioned they had seen it on a TV drama.
After researching the condition and consulting friends, Sierra concluded that ABS was the only explanation for Mr Lewis’ sudden drunkenness.
In April 2015, after he promised her he had not been drinking, she tested him with a blood alcohol meter that came up at 0.14 – above the legal limit.
Sierra said: ‘After he blew into the metre, he went white as a sheet, collapsed on the floor and didn’t regain his composure for about 45 minutes.
‘As sick as it seemed, that entire reaction alone made me very confident that Ray had absolutely no idea he was actually drunk.
‘After that day, we started journaling everything we could think of – foods eaten, beverages consumed, BAC readings throughout the day, as well as Ray’s general health and behaviour.
‘During a flare that summer, we went to the local walk-in clinic. The emergency doctor tested him for stokes, heart issues, and after agreeing he was indeed intoxicated referred Ray to a gastroenterologist.
‘Eventually we were referred to Dr Anup Kanodia in Ohio, who after numerous tests confirmed the diagnosis of a systemic yeast infection and Auto-Brewery Syndrome.’
Donate to Mr Lewis’ legal costs and adaptations to his new life here.