A woman in Arizona suffers from an extremely rare variation of an already extremely rare disease – three times she’s gone to bed with a “blinding headache” and each time she’s awoken speaking in a different foreign accent … made all the more puzzling by the fact that she’s never left the U.S. in her life. Is it contagious? Is there a shot for it?
The woman is Michelle Myers, a mother of seven – that alone should allow her to have a few headaches without any other side effects. Unfortunately, one she had about seven years ago caused her to wake up the next morning with an Irish accent. According to a recent interview about her condition, she’s never been to Ireland and had no accompanying desires for green beer or corned beef and cabbage, so doctors cautiously suggested that her condition was something known as ‘foreign accent syndrome’. Other than the headache, she had no other indications of typical causes of this rare condition – usually a stroke or some sort of head injury.
The condition was first described in 1907 by the French neurologist Pierre Marie and there have been only about 60 known cases since then of foreign accent syndrome, which is actually an inaccurate description of the condition. The sufferer typically awakens from sleep, a coma or injury exhibiting changes in the timing and intonation of their speech, which makes it sound like a different-than-normal accent. The language they use is often garbled and not understandable by family and friends, making them think it’s foreign. However, researchers have found patterns common to those with the condition such consonant deletion (buh-uh instead of butter), consonant substitutions (bake for take), similar vowel distortions and lots of ‘uhs’.
The condition is typically temporary, as was the case the first time it hit Michelle Myers when the ‘accent’ disappeared after about a week. The same was true the second time when awoke with an Australian accent and kept it for a week. However, two years ago she awakened from another severe headache speaking with a British accent and she and those who hear her say it’s stuck through today.
While she says she’s never had a stroke or psychological problems, in another interview Myers reveals that she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, an inherited disorder that affects skin, joints and blood vessel walls by making them overly elastic and prone to injury or, in the case of skin and blood vessels, tearing. In severe cases, the walls of blood vessels, intestines or the uterus could erupt, causing pregnancy complications. While none of the reports mention this in Meyers’ case, she has seven kids so that may not be the problem.
She also says that her headaches have been diagnosed as hemiplegic migraines, which are also rare and can cause temporary paralysis that is often misdiagnosed as a stroke. While doctors say this isn’t the cause of her foreign accent syndrome, Myers would probably like to get rid of that too. Unfortunately, doctors aren’t sure how to treat it effectively either.
Her goal in giving the interview after two years of suffering is to let others know about the condition, let people who encounter someone with it know it is a serious disease and possibly find someone with an idea for treatment or a cure.
Is there a bright side to Michelle Myers’ condition? She says she misses not being able to correctly pronounce the names of her kids but likes that they now call her a proper British “mummy” instead of mom.