A record label talent-spotter who has not burped since he was a baby – because of a condition so rare it has no name – has been cured by Botox injections in his throat.
Left in agony after meals when the affliction stopped him releasing gas from his stomach, 34-year-old Neil Ribbens says his life has been changed by a 40 minute procedure.
He says the £3,000 surgery he had in February at BMI The Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle, Greater Manchester is ‘the best thing that could have happened to me’.
‘I’m more confident, I’m healthier and I just feel all round so much happier,’ Mr Ribbens says.
Described by his surgeon as ‘extremely rare’, the condition caused Mr Ribbens stomach pain, bloating and severe hiccups, and stopped him from eating large meals or going to the pub.
It was caused by his larynx – his voicebox – being so tensed it would prevent gas from escaping through his throat.
Botox, which relaxes muscles and is more commonly used to smooth wrinkles, has relieved this tension and means Mr Ribbens, from Shadwell in East London, can burp again.
Mr Ribbens says he was turned away or given medicine that didn’t work by NHS doctors, so he paid £3,000 for Botox injections which have cured his problem
Mr Ribbens stopped being able to burp after developing the strange condition in his childhood. He saw various doctors over the years but they could not help him.
No-one could recommend effective medication to relieve his daily suffering and he felt some medics failed to take him seriously.
After years of frustration he took matters into his own hands and found a private surgeon online who offers patients Botox for the condition.
He said: ‘One doctor I spoke to laughed, which wasn’t great.
‘After that, subsequent GPs would just prescribe me various over-the-counter drugs. There was no one who had heard of my condition.’
His greatest discomfort happened after eating a large meal or drinking alcohol and fizzy drinks, when he would develop crippling stomach aches, violent hiccups and his belly would bloat to more than twice its normal size.
He said: ‘I avoided going to the pub with friends until I was about 25, because I knew I’d be in pain and would have to leave.
‘Not being able to burp really impacted on my social life.
‘If I had a three-course dinner I’d feel terrible afterwards, which led to me missing things like big work Christmas meals.’
Mr Ribbens, now 34, had not been able to burp since he was a baby, and the condition caused him stomach pain, bloating and flatulence
Mr Ribbens says having the procedure has improved his social life and his relationship with his girlfriend Pavla, 27 (pictured)
A talent-spotter for a record label, Mr Ribbens said before his operation the condition impacted his social life and made him feel uncomfortable at the pub or out for meals
When Mr Ribbens did eat large meals, they would trigger a peculiar gurgling sound coming from the bottom of his throat.
Rare condition caused a gurgling in the throat, a tight chest and acidic taste
HOW DOES BOTOX WORK?
Although Botox is made from an extremely poisonous toxin called botulinum toxin which can kill humans, it is widely used in medicine.
It is used for its ability to paralyse muscles and relax them.
When used cosmetically, this reduces the appearance of wrinkles caused by ageing because it loosens the muscles beneath the skin.
Botox is also used for a variety of other conditions including muscle spasms, migraine, excessive sweating, crossed eyes, and urinary incontinence.
It may also be used to relax muscles in people who have had strokes which caused their limbs to tense up.
Botox works by targeting the nervous system and blocking the link between muscles and the nerves which make them contract.
Source: Medical News Today
He describes it as ‘the strangest sound you’ve ever heard coming from a human body.’
This would be followed by a tightness in his chest and the taste of acid in his mouth.
‘Then the bloating would start,’ he continued. ‘And, if I’d really overdone it, I would get vicious hiccups.
‘That was the end game and would put me on my back for a while. It would feel like I’d really been through the mill.’
The build up of gas often led to embarrassing consequences.
Mr Ribbens explained: ‘I basically became very good at releasing gas “downstairs”.
‘It would build in the stomach and eventually all get released by, shall we say, “letting go.” I would just have to do a huge fart.’
Specialist surgeon found in an online forum
Eventually, after years of living with the curious disorder, early this year Mr Ribbens took matters into his own hands and searched online for a doctor.
In a web forum he found Manchester-based surgeon Yakubu Karagama, who is pioneering a revolutionary new method for treating the condition using Botox.
Mr Ribbens says the rare condition meant he would get a peculiar gurgling sound coming from his throat when he ate large meals, which would be followed by chest tightness and an acidic taste
Mr Ribbens, pictured with his dog Lola, found Manchester-based surgeon Yakubu Karagama while searching online
Mr Ribbens, pictured with girlfriend Pavla, often became bloated as a result of the embarrassing condition
Private procedure cost £3,000 because it’s not available on NHS
A relaxant, Botox is most commonly used to iron out facial wrinkles, but Mr Ribbens had it injected into his larynx, which had previously been so tensed that gas could not escape from his throat.
The procedure cost him around £3,000 privately, as the NHS does not yet offer it.
Mr Ribbens said: ‘My surgery was a huge success and I can now burp to my heart’s content.
‘I don’t know how many people have this condition – but they should have this procedure. It was worth every penny.
‘This condition is being gradually better understood by a handful of doctors around the world, but it hasn’t even got a name, which shows there’s still a long way to go.
Pictured with girlfriend Pavla in Venice, Mr Ribbens says many doctors he visited did not know about the condition but it is gradually being better understood
Mr Ribbens, from Shadwell, East London, says his procedure was unlike cosmetic botox because it should not have to be done again – he should be cured for life
‘Words can’t describe how much better I feel’
‘But words can’t really describe how much better I feel now and, luckily, unlike cosmetic Botox, it won’t have to be repeated at monthly intervals.
‘The one operation should have cured my problem for good.
‘Not being able to burp sounds funny looking back and talking about it now, but at the time it was awful.’
Mr Ribbens’s surgeon, Mr Karagama, who is a consultant at BMI The Alexandra Hospital, added: ‘This condition is extremely rare and we are only just beginning to understand the extent of it.
‘I myself have seen just 12 patients over the last two years.
‘They all describe the same feelings of pain that can last for hours, and of the gurgling in their throats after eating.
‘They can also get excessive flatulence, as the air has to leave the body somehow.
‘They are often ridiculed and their concerns dismissed, but it’s no laughing matter for those who are affected by the condition.’
Mr Ribbens says his girlfriend Pavla, 27 (pictured), has ‘definitely noticed the difference in me’
‘My girlfriend has definitely noticed the difference in me’
One person who is particularly pleased that Neil’s problem is finally cured is his girlfriend, Pavla Machova, 27.
Neil added: ‘We’d been together for over a year when I had the operation, so she’s been there before and after.
‘She’s definitely noted the difference in me and is pleased that I’m no longer filling the bedroom with vicious farts.
‘It’s the best thing that could have happened to me in all honesty – for my health and for my love life.’