'Diagnosis': Gulf War veteran's memory loss and extreme mood swings baffle doctors as they struggle to find the cause of his mystery illness
A New Mexico resident, Willie Reyes had started to lose his memory, experience extreme mood swings after suffering a seizure and doctors and neurologists had absolutely no idea why.
After the 46-year-old suffered a seizure, doctors discovered lesions on his brain which were causing the memory loss, the mood swings, and hearing problems. Now, after numerous unsuccessful visits to doctors and neurologists, the Reyes family is hoping to get some answers and maybe even a possible cure with the help of Dr. Lisa Sanders. A new Netflix series titled 'Diagnosis' which is based on a 'New York Times' column by Yale School of Medicine physician and author Dr. Lisa Sanders looks into Reyes's case.
Reyes lives in Vado in New Mexico along with his wife of 24 years, Sandra Reyes, and his daughter Serena. As a result of his condition, Reyes lost his job as a prison guard and wound up with a medical debt of around $10,000 as he was not given any disability retirement benefits. When Reyes was 18, he served in the army as a tank mechanic. After serving eight years, Reyes got out of service and got a job as a prison guard. He worked there for 19 years until he was let go.
Reyes's condition started after he had a seizure in 2016 and brought on the rest of his symptoms. He went through a series of tests and scans in order to try and determine whether there was something interfering with the brain. Every single test except for the MRI came back normal. A huge lesion was found at the base of his brain. There also seemed to be some inflammation in the brain which was classified as unspecified. The initial leading diagnosis was something known as 'Clippers' which is an inflammation that spreads throughout the brain. Since it responds to steroids, Reyes was given many steroids but did not work.
Most doctors and neurologists had suggested it could either be a viral infection or an autoimmune disorder though nothing was confirmed. When Dr. Sanders stepped in and shared Reyes's case with the world, she had a lot of people writing in with suggestions as to what it could be. A fellow veteran with similar symptoms who reached out to Sanders revealed that Reyes's anomaly could very well be 'Gulf War Illness'.
A Gulf war veteran, Bob Chalmers, shared that he was a desert storm veteran and some of his problems such as memory issues are very similar to Reyes. "Some people think that it may be related to whatever I was exposed to in the Gulf in 91," Chalmers shared. Another Gulf war veteran, Steve Delosh also shared that he served in the Gulf war and revealed that he has similar neurological problems as Reyes. According to Dr. Kimberly Sullivan who is a leading expert in Gulf war illness shared that Reyes symptoms are very similar to those seen in other veterans with Gulf War illness.
"He has brain inflammation which we think is the root of Gulf War illness," Dr. Kimberly shared. She did add that Reyes does seem to have more severe symptoms than the rest. "Gulf War Illness affects a third of Gulf war veterans. It's about 250,000 sick veterans," she continued. There are presently no cures for Gulf War illness. Reyes recalls seeing the burning of the oil fields and the sky being black. "It was real polluted. You could smell that burning oil smell for miles away. A lot of that smoke went into everyone's lungs. Now I'm thinking some of that could be tied into my sickness," Reyes tear-fully shared.
Dr. Sanders shared that "in order to know or understand whether Willie has Gulf war illness, we need to know exactly where he was and what he could be exposed to. The fact that a third of all veterans who were there have these symptoms is compelling." With no proper medical records or documents, Reyes did not have access to vital information regarding his whereabouts and exposure during the Gulf war. "Sometimes, I think they expose us to a lot more than they are actually saying," Reyes shared.
Willie Reyes and his family are still awaiting official approval to be able to receive any service-related benefits. As Dr. Sanders shares, the one most important thing is Willie is now part of a community of people who are going through what he is and that can make all the difference in the world.