A woman who lost her voice because of a brain damage has regained the power of speech – but in four different accents.
Bournemouth children’s home manager Emily Egan, 31, who originally had an Essex accent, baffled doctors when she lost the ability to speak.
Now after months of confusion, she has finally been diagnosed with a rare condition known as foreign accent syndrome, a speech disorder caused by brain damage.
Now she mostly speaks with a Polish accent, even in ‘broken English’ at times , but her voice can suddenly change to sound French and Italian as well.
When she is stressed her accent becomes Russian and when she is exhausted Emily can lose the ability to speak altogether.
Medics initially suspected a stroke, but it was ruled out and they believe her speech disorder was caused by brain damage, but don’t yet know what caused it.
Emily said: “This whole experience has been exhausting and totally overwhelming.
“It’s not just my accent that has changed – I don’t speak or think in the same way as before this and I can’t construct sentences like I used to.
“I write differently now, my whole vocabulary has changed and my English has gotten worse despite living in the UK all of my life.
“My dad has said that I don’t sound like me any more in that he’d never imagine me wording things like I do now.
“I’ve even experienced abuse from strangers who think I am foreign – I had a man shout at me in the supermarket saying foreigners like me are the reason we have coronavirus.
“It’s changed my life completely.”
Emily had been suffering from headaches for two weeks before her voice suddenly deepened while she was at work in January 2020.
Her speech rapidly became slow and slurred so Emily was rushed to hospital where she underwent extensive CT and MRI scans.
Doctors ruled out a stroke but were left confused when Emily lost the ability to speak completely during her hospital stay.
She was discharged to a neurologist after three weeks in hospital but still without a voice, and communicated solely through an app on her phone.
She said: “I knew a bit of basic sign language as I needed it for work years ago but I just used my hands to express what I wanted to say.
“I had to use a ‘text to speak’ app on my iPhone which sounded like Stephen Hawkins and it just wasn’t me.
“Adjusting to communicating like this was so hard, I felt like a completely different person.”
Emily and her partner Bradleigh, 27, had booked a holiday to Thailand before she fell ill and her neurologist encouraged her to take the trip and try to relax as much as possible.
Five days into her holiday in March 2020, Emily slowly began to speak again but with great difficulty and she said she “sounded deaf”.
Her voice slowly grew stronger as the days passed but Emily was shocked when she realised she had developed an Eastern European accent.
She was finally diagnosed with foreign accent syndrome in March 2020 and now her voice rapidly changes between Polish, Russian, French and Italian.
Emily said: “I’m an Essex girl normally – my accent was really strong and my voice was very high pitched and really recognisable, people always knew it was me calling.
“On holiday, I started making sounds like a deaf person trying to talk – it is thought that the neuropathways had started to open as my body had completely relaxed.
“By the time I was home, the words were sounding like a foreign language.
“I was so thrilled when my voice started coming back but now I don’t even recognise the voice that comes out of my mouth, it doesn’t sound like me.
“I actually used to be so good at putting on accents for my friends before this and I’ve even had people ask if I’m putting it on – as if I could keep it up this long!”
Since her diagnosis, Emily has been having private vocal therapy once a week over Zoom but there is no indication if she will ever regain her normal accent.
Her extremely rare condition has sent her body into shut down, leaving her exhausted and she experienced left side weakness two weeks ago.
Again a symptom of a stroke, Emily was rushed to hospital and has now been diagnosed with a functional neurological disorder as well.
Her left arm and hand are now paralysed but doctors hope she will regain feeling and movement with time and physical therapy.
Emily said: “I’m only 31 years old and I am shocked at how much my life has changed in a matter of months.
“I’ve had to stop working because my job is quite stressful and the doctors have said stress will only make my condition worse.
“The hardest thing for me is learning that this voice is ok. I have to learn to accept that it’s ok for me to not be able to get the words out straight away, it’ll come eventually.
“I just have to stop getting so frustrated with myself so am practicing holistic approaches to calm and clear my mind with my therapist, as when I get frustrated, everything goes, there’s no speech, and it’s back to square one.
“I am learning that when I’m tired, my speech goes or my accent changes – it will deepen and go slow, and for the last week, it’s been predominantly Russian.
“Doctors can’t predict what will happen with my voice. It’s just a matter of taking every day as it comes, so I’m just trying to stay positive and hopeful.
“I’d never heard of either of these really rare conditions and now I’ve been diagnosed with both, it has just been a total whirlwind.”