A tea-total mother’s body makes her so drunk that breathalyzers have found she has reached six times the limit on alcohol consumption.
Sara Lefebvre is now hoping one last treatment means she can get the liver transplant she urgently needs.
The 38-year-old is often mistaken for an alcoholic, even by doctors, and suffers from auto-brewery syndrome (ABS), a rare condition in which yeast in the stomach produces excessive amounts of ethanol or grain alcohol that gets into her blood and renders her intoxicated.
It has caused her to fall over, break at least six bones and pass out – and once lay in front of her house for hours in freezing temperatures and risk freezing to death.
Sara, who was diagnosed in February 2020 and lives in East Hampton, Connecticut, USA, with her husband Ant (39), an architect for network solutions, and their children Logan (17) and Hayley (16), is now placing her hopes on a Das new antifungal drug micafungin makes them good enough for a liver transplant.
Until her symptoms are under control, the hospital’s former IT administrator says surgeons will not give her a new organ, adding, “If this new drug doesn’t work, I’ll die.
“It was so annoying, not just because of what’s ahead of me, but because so many doctors don’t believe auto-brewery syndrome is a real disease.”
Sara, who married Ant in 2004, says her symptoms first appeared in her early twenties, when she occasionally passed out or accidentally fell ill.
After her 23rd birthday, she risked freezing to death when a buddy dropped her off outside her then home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts around 12:30 p.m. after a meal and a few drinks.
But her friend drove off before she went inside and she collapsed outside, lying in temperatures of -1 ° C for six hours wearing only a T-shirt and jeans while Ant slept soundly with her children.
Sara said, “I don’t remember what happened, but I ended up waking up incredibly cold and going inside.
“When I spoke to my girlfriend afterwards, she said I was absolutely fine before she left.
“I was confused when I woke up, but I just wanted to get clean and warm.”
As her falls and loss of consciousness increased over the years, Sara left the doctors at a loss.
Then, about seven years ago, their symptoms began to closely mimic drunkenness – with blurry language and personality changes – that the couple believed were caused by a concussion from their falls.
“I fell down the stairs and even fell asleep in the laundry basket once with a sock on and a sock off,” she said.
She added, “When I’m drunk I don’t feel any pain. Only after that did I hurt myself all over the place.
“I broke six bones in total – including two ribs, and I didn’t even notice.”
Sara, forced to quit her job because of her condition, had no idea how damaging they were to her liver. She can’t remember most of her intoxicated episodes, which occur in the afternoon after a meal.
Ironically, she started feeling anxious and depressed in 2016 after having hardly had a drink before, consuming up to four shots of vodka a day – without realizing that her body was already “drunk” without needing alcohol and that she was Behavior her liver posed further danger.
“I was so concerned that I would have a vodka to calm myself down,” she said.
However, in January 2019, she was diagnosed with liver disease and doctors attributed her strange behavior – her family called her afternoon episodes “turning” – to hepatic encephalopathy, in which the brain stops working properly due to liver failure.
After she stopped drinking a few weeks before her diagnosis, she was given lactulose, a sugar-based laxative, to treat the disease. The yeast in her stomach, however, fed on the drug, reacting with the sugar to create ethanol, and causing her ABS to spike.
And to make matters worse, Sara’s condition meant she craved sugary treats – so she even mocked popsicles in her hospital bed without realizing it made them even more drunk.
After her liver diagnosis, Sara stopped drinking for good – but blood tests showed high alcohol levels, which meant she was removed from the transplant lists at two local hospitals.
Ant believed his wife when she told him she didn’t drink and became a detective to find out what the alcohol was doing in Sara’s blood.
He even threw household cleaners containing alcohol and hired a nurse to monitor her and prove her sobriety.
The lightbulb moment came in December 2019 when she collapsed in her basement studio at home.
Found by her daughter and taken to the hospital, a nurse decided to give her an alcohol test, which showed she was three times above the limit for alcohol consumption.
The next morning, Ant bought several breathalyzers and tested his wife all week.
At every opportunity, the test showed that she was drunk but had not consumed alcohol or left the house.
When the nurse they hired found a Facebook group for auto brewing syndrome, it all started to come together.
The couple contacted a specialist in Staten Island, New York who finally diagnosed her with an auto-brewing condition in February 2020.
The disease is so rare that its prevalence is almost unknown, although Sara and Ant, who joined a Facebook self-help group for those affected, believe fewer than 100 people have been diagnosed with the syndrome.
It was recommended to cut out the sugars and carbohydrates that yeast made alcohol out of. This has improved her condition significantly.
Sara said, “I used to love sugary things like sweet cakes, but now I have a very restricted diet – scrambled eggs for breakfast and leafy green vegetables with meat for dinner.”
Sara now suffers from jaundice, which turns the skin yellow due to her damaged liver, and urgently needs a new organ.
Although their blood alcohol levels are still above average, there are no hospitals.
On October 20, 2020, Sara recorded her highest blood alcohol level to date – 449 milligrams per deciliter, nearly six times the U.S. limit for alcohol use – after Ant rushed her to hospital after another fall.
She said, “The doctors told me to be in a coma and not be able to talk or walk around.”
She added, “I felt terrible hearing this. I was so confused, but I must have developed a tolerance for alcohol. “
With the antifungal drugs nystatin and fluconazole unable to suppress yeast, Sara hopes that micafungin, an even more potent drug that is delivered directly into her bloodstream through a catheter, could finally be her savior.
Sara is awfully aware of the stress her condition puts on her family, especially her children.
She said, “They love me, but it’s like I have two versions of myself – sometimes I’m me and sometimes I’m not me. And when I’m not me, I get loud and yell at them a lot.”
And despite everything, she refuses to give up her dreams for the future.
She said, “I would like to be a landscaper or a gardener.”
She added, “I would love to go back to Massachusetts to see my mother, father and brothers. But right now, that’s just not possible.”
Meanwhile, Ant, who works at home, needs to be on high alert every waking minute of the day.
He said, “I’m always scared of what Sara will fall for or how she might harm herself. It’s like a living nightmare.”
He added, “If I hear a bang or a crash upstairs, I know what happened and I need to hurry over there to pick her up and make sure she is okay.
“One night she decided she wasn’t going to take off the covers and walked away with it, only to bang right against a wall.”
Believing that his wife’s condition was triggered by repeated antibiotic courses as a young woman, dental procedures, throat infections, and surgery to remove tonsils and adenoids, Ant stated that they can kill the good bacteria in the stomach.
He said, “From what we’ve learned with other people who have this disease, these antibiotics kill good bacteria in the stomach so the ABS can take root. Once that happens, it’s a war zone.”
“Unfortunately, your body can’t produce enough good bacteria to fight the yeast.”
He admitted that the disease put tremendous pressure on her family – but they are all determined to support them as best they can.
He said, “The kids are used to it, no – unfortunately it’s their new norm. They know it’s not their fault, but at the same time, our families asked for it.
“It’s not easy, but the children were very resilient.”