By Alex Matthews
A former soldier has become a human beer keg – after a bizarre medical condition means his stomach started turning food into ALCOHOL.
Ray Lewis, 48, suffers from Autobrewery Syndrome – rare a condition where his body produces its own alcohol from food and can leave him paralytic after eating an evening meal.
And the former US army paratrooper, from Eugene, Oregon, ended up losing his job as a truck driver and in court – after he crashed a vehicle after eating his lunch.
His long-suffering wife Sierra even feared he was a closet alcoholic – and put him on a strict detox diet, banning him from having access to his bank account to buy alcohol.
But Ray was still getting ‘drunk’ every day – until he was eventually diagnosed with the bizarre condition by medics in September 2015.
The conditions erratic triggers means he has no idea where or when he might get drunk and pass out.
The 48-year-old is restricted to a diet of protein, vegetables, and nuts, and is not allowed to touch chocolate, chips, or any other sugars or carbohydrates.
And his wife has even resorted to attaching a GPS tracker to Ray if she has to leave him alone – in case he becomes drunk and wanders off.
He claims his illness caused him to lose his job with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife when, unaware of his condition, he crashed a truck carrying 11,000 salmon, causing it to overturn.
Ray, jobless since the December 2014 incident, 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 inconsistant, 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.”
His wife Sierra, who runs a soap business and looks after Ray, 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 tracker 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 an vodka bottle on the ground.”
Ray and Sierra met in San Diego, California, 17 years ago and married in 2006. They moved onto their 10-acre farm five years ago, which they call ‘Upset Apple Cart Farm’.
Ray began experiencing typical ABS symptoms in late 2013, feeling nauseous, sweaty, and repeating conversations up to five times a day.
But the alarm bells did not truly start ringing until Ray had his 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.”
Sierra and Ray only came across ABS when a friend mentioned they had seen it on a television drama.
After immediately researching the condition and consulting with friends, Sierra concluded that however rare and unlikely it sounded, ABS was the only explanation for Ray’s sudden drunkenness.
In April 2015, after Ray promised her he had not been drinking, she tested him with a blood alcohol metre and it came up at 0.14 – … above the legal limit.
Shocked, the couple began to look for a doctor who could confirm the diagnosis. But they still faced a long fight to be taken seriously.
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.”
Ray’s diagnosis 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 life as an ‘alcoholic’.
Ray 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 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.
“Fortunately I have great friends around who help take care of me. I’m exceedingly grateful for those caring souls.”
To donate to Ray’s legal costs and adaptations to his new life visit HERE.