A record label talent spotter who could not burp for 34 years – because of a condition so rare it has no name – can belch again, thanks to Botox injections in his throat.
Left in agony after meals when the affliction stopped him from releasing gas from his stomach, since having Botox- more commonly associated with smoothing out wrinkles – Neil Ribbens, 34, has been burping “like a frog.”
Praising the 40-minute procedure he had in February at BMI The Alexandra Hospital in Cheadle, Greater Manchester, Neil, of Shadwell, east London, who is also an artist manager, said: “It’s the best thing that could have happened to me.”
Neil at the Total Warrior competition (Collect/PA Real Life)
He added: “I’m more confident, I’m healthier and I just feel all round so much happier.”
Neil, who stopped being able to burp after developing the strange condition in his childhood, saw various doctors over the years to no avail.
No one could recommend effective medication to relieve his daily suffering and he felt some medics failed to take him seriously.
Neil with girlfriend Pavla (Collect/PA Real Life)
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.
A bloated Neil with Pavla (Collect/PA Real Life)
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.”
Neil with Dalmatian Lola (Collect/PA Real Life)
When Neil did eat large meals, they would invariably trigger a peculiar gurgling sound, coming from the bottom of his throat – which he described as “the strangest sound you’ve ever heard coming from a human body.”
This would be followed by a tightness in the 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.”
A&R manager Neil holding records (Collect/PA Real Life)
He added: “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.
Neil 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.”
Neil and Pavla in Venice (Collect/PA Real Life)
Eventually, after years of living with the curious disorder, early this year Neil finally discovered through an online forum a doctor in Manchester, Mr Karagama, who is pioneering a revolutionary new method for treating the condition using Botox.
A relaxant, Botox is most commonly used to iron out facial wrinkles, but Neil had it injected into his larynx, which had previously been so tensed that gas could not escape from his throat.
Neil, who had the procedure, costing around $3,440.82 privately, as the NHS does not yet offer it, said: “My surgery was a huge success and I can now burp to my heart’s content.”
Neil in hospital for botox operation (Collect/PA Real Life)
He continued: “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."
“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.”
Neil and Pavla in 70s disco costumes (Collect/PA Real Life)
He added: “Not being able to burp sounds funny looking back and talking about it now, but at the time it was awful.”
Neil’s surgeon, Mr Karagama, who is a consultant at BMI The Alexandra Hospital, commented: “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.”
Neil in the recording studio (Collect/PA Real Life)
He continued: “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.”
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.”
A version of this article originally appeared on Press Association.