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September 20th, 2010
03:55 PM ET

When brain damage makes you sound foreign

You may have dabbled with a foreign accent just for fun, or for a performance of some kind. But in very rare cases, a person's voice takes on a dramatically different sound without his or her permission, and the original accent may be totally lost.

The phenomenon is called Foreign Accent Syndrome, and it's gotten a lot of attention recently.

There are only believed to be about 60 people in the world with foreign accent syndrome. It happens when brain injuries such as stroke lead a patient's speech pattern to change.

One woman with the condition is Kay Russell from Bishops Cleeve, England. The BBC reported that in January, Kay Russell woke up with a French-sounding accent after a severe migraine.

She has mixed emotions when she sees a video of herself speaking with her old British accent; it reminds her of her old self.

"It's not my voice I miss. I would love to have my old voice back, but it goes way, way, way beyond my voice," she told the BBC. "It's the person I want to be."

Another British woman with the condition also seeks to recover her former self. Kath Lockett has been trying to get her original voice back for four years, the BBC reported. A brain disease called severe cerebral vasculitis had left her unable to speak; after treatment, her accent became eastern European.

"It makes you realize you don't know where you're from anymore because you feel like you've lost your identity," Lockett told the BBC.

CNN also reported on the phenomenon in April - check out this video.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.