A father of two who lost his high school teaching job over a drunk driving charge discovered he failed a Breathalyzer test because he has auto-brewery syndrome (ABS), a rare condition where the body produces alcohol in the gut.
Mark Mongiardo, of Estero, Florida, said his symptoms first emerged in 2006 when he was a high school teacher and coach in New Jersey, where coworkers began complaining that he reeked of alcohol despite the fact that he never drank at work.
The incident eventually forced him to switch jobs to a school in upstate New York, but everything came crashing down in 2018 when he was suddenly pulled over and charged with drunk driving.
Mongiardo insisted, yet again, that he did not drink a drop of alcohol, but the charge cost him his job.
“That’s when I lost everything. I lost everything that somebody could lose,” he told ABC 7. “I had to sell my house, I had to sell my car. I couldn’t get a job in education, I couldn’t get a job at a grocery store.
“I had pending felony charges. You know, I was facing prison time for two DWIs when I had not been drinking.”
The incidents eventually led Mongiardo to Staten Island-based gastroenterologist Dr. Prasanna Wickremesinghe, one of the few experts who specializes in treating ABS, who diagnosed him with the condition.
“I started hysterically crying because I really felt that I had found the answer,” Mongiardo, who now works at a Target, said.
Answers finally arrived when Mongiardo visited Wickremesinghe, who has been fascinated by ABS since he first encountered it in 2014.
Wickremesinghe, who has been fascinated with ABS since he first encountered it in 2014, told The Post that there is no set framework on diagnosing the condition which he said is essentially caused when a patient has an adverse effect to antibiotics.
He said the medication can disrupt the biome in the gut, allowing fungi and yeast to take over. Then when carbohydrates are introduced, the gut ferments alcohol.
“That’s how you get a patient who appears drunk but claims they haven’t had anything to drink,” Wickremesinghe said.
The expert has treated 30 patients with the condition, which usually requires antifungals and a strict low-carb diet.
Wickremesinghe added that he is working to raise awareness of ABS in the medical community in order to help identify more possible patients — and to hopefully establish a framework for diagnosing and treating the condition.
Mongiardo first suspected something was wrong while he served as a physical education teacher and assistant basketball coach at the New Milford High School in New Jersey.
While working there, staffers began griping that he smelled of alcohol.
“I would never do that. I’m a teacher,” Mongiardo said. “I really had no idea what was going on.”
Eventually, Mongiardo said he needed to leave the school, taking a job as the director of physical education, health and athletics at the Liberty Central School District in 2018.
But only three weeks into his new job, Mongiardo found himself pulled over by police when they identified his car as being similar to another that someone was littering from.
During the stop, Mongiardo was shocked to learn he had a blood alcohol content of around .18, way above the legal limit.
And it happened again in 2019 when he was pulled over for driving while using his cellphone, with the later incident reaching his employer.
“During the school day, I had a meeting, I was forced to take a blood test and a breath test, and I had alcohol in my system,” he said.
Mongiardo was put on leave for the rest of the school year, and the school told him they would not renew his contract, effectively sealing his career in education.
Luckily for Mongiardo, the DWI charges against him were ultimately dismissed due to prosecutors’ failure to prosecute him in a timely manner.
Now the Florida resident takes 30 pills a day to treat his ABS, following the low-carb diet and testing himself with a Breathalyzer before getting behind the wheel.
“I’m really coming out on the other side in a positive way,” he told ABC. “I’m happy I’m moving forward with my life.”
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