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Brain Damage From Migraines

In a strange twist of fate, a migraine hit one woman with such force that she was left speaking in a far eastern accent. The 35 year-old woman, Sarah Colwill from Devon, spoke with the drawl of a British, West Country accent until her chronic migraine had a sudden acute eruption and inflicted on her a type of brain damage. Her pain was so bad she dialed emergency services. The paramedics who came to treat her were puzzled by her Chinese-sounding voice.

Ms. Colwill who works as an IT project coordinator was brought to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed her as having something called foreign accent syndrome (FAS). This is a rare condition in which the part of the brain that controls speech and word formulation sustains significant damage. Only a few cases of FAS have been recorded.

Very Frustrating

Colwill has been working hard with a speech therapist in an effort to restore her West Country accent but is beginning to despair that the Chinese accent will ever go away "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," she said.

The migraine victim said that she came to live in Plymouth when she was just a year and a half old so has always spoken in the local accent. She is as shocked as any of her neighbors that one migraine attack could make her sound Chinese.

Colwill spoke to her stepdaughter by phone while still in the hospital but her stepdaughter didn't recognize her voice. When Colwill identified herself, her stepdaughter told her she sounded Chinese. Friends she has called have hung up on her because they believe she is a prank caller. "I speak in a much higher tone now, my voice is all squeaky," said Colwill.

Sporadic Hemiplegic

Colwill, stepmother to two adult women, has been a severe migraine headache sufferer for ten years, but prior to the recent acute attack was diagnosed with a rare type of migraine: sporadic hemiplegic migraine. This type of migraine causes the brain's blood vessels to expand which can result in stroke-like symptoms including the paralysis of one side of the body.

In general, the effects disappear after a week; however Colwill suffered several migraines in a row, which culminated in a most excruciating migraine attack that caused brain damage in the form of FAS. At first Colwill saw the humor in the situation, but is now beginning to feel a bit depressed at her situation. Every time she opens her mouth to speak, she feels annoyance at this stranger's voice that emanates from her lips.

Phonetics expert Professor John Coleman hopes to study Colwill to learn more about what might cause the voice to change in both its emphasis and intonation. "FAS is extremely diverse, and is almost certainly not caused by one thing," he said. "It is not a well-defined medical phenomenon and therefore not the kind of problem that there are any easy generalizations about."

Twenty People

Experts say that fewer than 20 people worldwide suffer from FAS, such as the Scottish woman who in 1997 began to speak with a South African accent. Similar cases include a British man who speaks like a Mexican, and an American who began to speak with a French accent after being in a car crash.