Migraine sufferer left speaking with a CHINESE accent

April 19, 2010 | by | 0 Comments

A woman who suffers chronic migraines was struck by such a severe headache it left her talking – in a CHINESE accent.

Frustrated Sarah Colwill, 35, lives in Devon and spoke with a thick West Country drawl until the acute migraine inflicted a form of brain damage.

The headache was so painful she dialled 999 and paramedics who treated her commented that her voice sounded strange.

Sarah, a married IT project co-ordinator, was rushed to hospital where she realised she was speaking with a heavy Far Eastern accent.

Doctors diagnosed her with Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS), an extremely rare condition which damages part of the brain which controls speech and the way words are formed.

It is a one-in-250 million condition and there are just 20 recorded cases in the world.

Sarah is now undergoing speech therapy to try and revert to her West Country accent.

She said: ”I have never been to China. It is very frustrating and I just want my own voice back but I don’t know if I ever will.

”I moved to Plymouth when I was 18 months old so I have always spoken like a ‘local’. But following one attack an ambulance crew arrived and they said I definitely sounded Chinese.

”I spoke to my step-daughter on the phone from hospital and she didn’t recognise who I was. She said I sounded Chinese.

”Since then I have had my friends hanging up on me because they think I’m a hoax caller.

”I speak in a much higher tone now, my voice is all squeaky. I’m having speech therapy but I don’t know if the Chinese accent is ever going to go away.”

Married Sarah, who has two step-daughters, has suffered severe headaches for a decade but was diagnosed rare sporadic hemiplegic (corr) migraines earlier this year.

The condition causes blood vessels in the brain to expand, resulting in stroke-like symptoms such as paralysis down one side of the body.

The effects normally last for around seven days but Sarah suffered several migraine attacks at once, culminating with an excruciating attack on March 20 which caused the brain damage.

Sarah, who lives with her husband Patrick in Plymouth, added: ”The first few weeks of the accent was quite funny but to think I am stuck with this Chinese accent is getting me down.

”My voice has started to annoy me now. It is not my voice.”

Sarah has been contacted by Professor John Coleman, a phonetics expert who wants to study her.

He conducts research into FAS and said it was a ”complex” condition that causes the voice to change its intonation and emphasis.

He added that the disorder is thought to be caused by strokes and brain injuries but the condition is so rare there is limited research into why it happens.

Prof Coleman said: ”FAS is extremely diverse, and is almost certainly not caused by ‘one thing’.

”It is not a well-defined medical phenomenon and therefore not the kind of problem that there are any easy generalisations about.”

Experts believe there are less than 20 people in the world currently suffering with Foreign Accent Syndrome, including a Scottish woman who in 1997 developed a South African accent.

Other cases include a 46-year-old American who began speaking in a French accent following a car crash, a British man sounding Mexican, a Norwegian developing a German accent, and a Portuguese man sounding Chinese.

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