Doctors baffled as Texas woman suddenly develops British accent
Published Thursday, June 23, 2016 9:58AM EDT
Imagine having a Texan accent when you are put to sleep for surgery, and waking up with a British accent.
That’s what happened to Lisa Alamia, who underwent jaw surgery in Houston last December and discovered after the anesthetic had worn off that she had suddenly developed distinctly British tones.
Doctors were baffled but told her it would probably go away in a few days. Seven months later, Alamia still sounds like a foreigner in her home town.
Doctors now say it appears that Alamia has developed an unusual neurological disorder called “foreign accent syndrome.” It’s so rare, it has affected only 100 people worldwide in the last century.
Dr. Toby Yaltho, a neurologist at the Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital where Alamia was diagnosed, says he has never seen a case of the disorder before.
“As a neurologist, it’s one of those conditions that you read about and hear about but you never really think you’re going to see,” Dr. Yaltho told CTV News Channel from Houston on Thursday.
“But after talking to her (I realized) there really isn’t much else this could be.”
Dr. Yaltho admits he was a bit skeptical when Alamia first came to see him, and wondered if she was putting on an act. He began by trying to determine if the accent was stress-induced or part of a psychiatric disorder.
He and his team also performed an MRI of Alamia’s brain and looked for any evidence of seizures with an EEG, or electroencephalogram.
After months of investigation, Dr. Yaltho is left with no answers as to what might have caused Alamia’s sudden accent.
“I don’t think it can really be explained. I looked back and talked to the doctors and tried to figure out if there was something that happened during the surgery. As far as we could tell, it was not a complicated surgery, no injury or otherwise,” he said.
Alamia admits the accent often prompts questions from strangers about where she’s from. She’s embarrassed enough by it that she no longer attends church as much as she once did.
But Dr. Yaltho says the accent has diminished somewhat with time, and with continued speech therapy, they are hoping for continued improvement.
As for Dr. Yaltho, he says all his initial skepticism has disappeared.
“This is definitely something she’s not making up,” he says.