39-year-old Texas woman wakes up from back surgery with Russian and Australian accents

By Cassidy Morrison Senior Health Reporter for Dailymail.Com

Updated: 16:36 03 March 2023

  • Abby Fender woke up with paralyzed vocal cords and her Texas accent was gone
  • She spoke with recovering Russian, Australian and Ukrainian accents
  • People with Foreign Accent Syndrome have often been dismissed by experts

A Texas woman was shocked when she awoke after surgery for a herniated disc to find her southern drawl had been replaced with a heavy Russian accent.

Abby Fender, 39, discovered after the procedure that her vocal cords were paralyzed and she no longer spoke as she had done for the vast majority of her life. Doctors, initially puzzled, eventually diagnosed Ms Fender with a rare condition known as foreign accent syndrome.

Speech impairment is usually caused by some kind of brain damage due to traumatic brain injury, stroke, aneurysm, or a central nervous system condition called multiple sclerosis. In some cases, no underlying cause is identified.

Foreign accent syndrome has confounded neurologists and speech experts since it was first described in the early 20th century. While people develop accents over time as a result of the phonetic system or sound patterns in their native language that they learn unconsciously as they grow up, FAS affects the whole pattern of someone’s phonetic system.

Only around 100 cases of FAS have been diagnosed since 1907. Some cases have made headlines in recent years for their peculiarity, such as that of two Australian women who, in 2021, both developed thick Irish accents while they were recovering from an operation when they had no connection with the country. .

Abby Fender, pictured above, underwent surgery to repair a herniated disc
Prior to the current ordeal, Ms. Fender was a professional singer
After the surgery, Ms Fender was shocked to find her voice was ‘paralyzed’ and her Texas accent was gone

Ms Fender, a professional singer, said: ‘I woke up from my operation and immediately knew something was wrong with my voice as I couldn’t speak at any volume.

“Soon I started to feel my voice pitch very, very high and we called it the ‘Minnie Mouse Russian voice,’ where I sounded like a cartoon character all the time.”

Most of the roughly 100 cases reported since 1907 resulted from damage to the brain’s speech center called Broca’s area. Located on the frontal lobe, Broca’s area is crucial to a person’s ability to articulate ideas, as well as use words accurately in spoken and written language.

The condition is seen more often in women than in men, and patients usually develop FAS due to a stroke. In fact, the first case reported in 1907 involved a patient who suffered a stroke in the left hemisphere. It can also develop as a result of developmental or psychological disorders, trauma or tumors.

Cases of FAS can involve changes in the way people pronounce words, their syntax, and vocabulary, as well as changes in vowel length and tension. Some people with FAS may have trouble with sounds that require you to tap their tongue behind the upper front teeth, such as “t” or “d.” Some have trouble pronouncing groups of sounds like STR with words like “hit.”

In Mrs. Fender’s case, there was no reported incidence of brain injury. More recently his accent has changed to Ukrainian and Australian. She described the major impact this condition has had on her daily life, in which she is often asked about her strange and inexplicable accent.

She said: “I don’t want to lie about where I’m from, but sometimes I do because it’s easier. Every time I do that I feel like I’m denying who I really am and that’s not a good feeling, but I get asked, ‘Where are you from’ at least 10 times a day.”

Australians woke up from surgery with IRISH accents despite never having visited the country

Two Australian women who had never visited Ireland both developed thick Irish brogues shortly after undergoing surgeries.

“I remember once I said I was Ukrainian and the other person started talking to me in their native language. I had no idea what to do, so I had to confess, but before the current war, it was never a problem, because no one asked questions.

“Now it’s not that simple, so I try to avoid saying where I’m from and instead tell them what kind of accent they hear.”

Ms Fender underwent a battery of tests in an attempt to determine the neurological underpinnings of her condition, including MRIs and CT scans, but efforts were unsuccessful.

Her singing voice, which she had been refining since the age of 11, was also suffering. She said she was unable to maintain the same tone as before the operation and took on a different tone of voice.

There is a slight risk of injury to the spine and nerves during surgery to repair a herniated disc. The most common complication, occurring in about 1% to 7% of cases, is a dural tear. This happens when the thin lining covering the spinal cord or meninges is nicked by the surgical instrument.

It is not known, however, whether Ms. Fender had suffered a dural tear or any other serious complication from her operation that could explain the accent. She suspected that a complication during the procedure had affected the Broca part of her brain, “but we’ll never know.”

A speech therapist helped Ms. Fender regain her singing pitch and relax her neck muscles enough to regain her natural voice.

She said, “I couldn’t believe it, because it was a miracle to hear my own voice again.”

“It was like coming home after a very long journey, but it didn’t last, because it was only by using certain techniques such as blowing bubbles in a bottle of water using bubbles. ‘a straw that I will find my old accent’

Despite the great strides she’s made from her in speech therapy, Ms. Fender still falls back into an accent. Lately, she said she speaks with an Australian accent.

She added, “I’m starting to feel good about everything, but of course my latest change brought up some unexpected feelings of fear and embarrassment. I don’t like not having control or knowing what I’m going to look like.

“It’s very scary.”

What is foreign accent syndrome?

Foreign accent syndrome is a rare disorder that sees the patient speak with an accent that is different from their natural speaking style.

It is usually the result of a head or brain injury, with strokes being the most common cause.

FAS can also occur after brain trauma, brain hemorrhage, brain tumor, or multiple sclerosis.

It has only been recorded 100 times since its discovery in 1907.

This causes patients to pronounce vowels in different ways, move their tongue and jaw differently while speaking to produce a different sound, and even substitute words for others they don’t normally use.

Foreign accent syndrome can last for months or years, or sometimes it can even be permanent.

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