A British woman who had a stroke and woke up with a Chinese accent is devastated after being told the side effect is PERMANENT.
Sarah Colwill’s strong Devon drawl disappeared overnight – in one of only 20 known cases of Foreign Accent Syndrome worldwide.
Medical staff say they have exhausted all options and despite Sarah never visiting China she has to accept her Far East voice is here to stay.
Sarah, 40, says her life has been made a living hell and she has lost her home, her job and her previous life as a result of her bizarre condition.
Experts say it is caused by a ‘drawing out’ or ‘clipping’ of the vowels that mimics an accent even though the patient has limited exposure to that country.
It was first identified during the Second World War when a Norwegian woman was hit by shrapnel during an air raid.
She suffered brain damage and developed a strong German accent, which led to her being ostracised by her community in 1941.
Sarah, of Plymouth, Devon, said: “My neurologist has signed me off and said I will permanently be this way.
“They’ve tried various treatments; they’ve tried everything, but nothing makes a difference.
“When I think about how much my life has changed, it is devastating. Being told I would be like this forever was a heart breaking thing to hear. It was a real bombshell.
“I try not to dwell on how bad things are and how much I have lost. I think how lucky I am to be able to still do what I do and try and find a positive in every day.
“I am still the same person inside. Of course, people who did not know me before have met a totally different person – but I am still Sarah from Plymouth.
“It took me a while to come to terms with it – but it is what it is.
“I just have to get on with it. I don’t think my accent causes too many difficulties now.
“Sometimes people cannot understand me, which is frustrating. But when my speech is really bad, I just don’t speak.
“I cannot make my voice sound any different. It is what it is and I cannot change it.
“I had never been to China before and had a strong Plymouth accent.”
The night that changed her life came after ten years of suffering from severe head pain, which caused stroke-like symptoms.
She then woke up after a series of attacks sounding like she was from China.
Sarah, who has two step-daughters, said: “It was horrible. But I have got used to the accent now and I find most people don’t treat me any differently anymore.
“People ask me where I am from, but that doesn’t bother me anymore.
“As soon as I explain that I have a medical condition, they feel sorry for me, but they shouldn’t.”
Sarah says she is trying to remain positive, but since first developing the condition five years ago her life has been turned upside down.
She had to leave her job as an IT project coordinator and is in the process of selling her home as she could not afford to pay the mortgage.
She continues to suffer with a multitude of health problems and struggles through every day.
She said: “My speech is just one aspect; I have many other brain problems which make it impossible to work.
“I have migraines all the time and I have to use a wheelchair because my brain doesn’t know how to communicate with my body anymore.
“There is nothing wrong with my limbs, but my brain can’t tell them when to move.
“I can be totally paralysed for 10 minutes or ten hours and it happens randomly.
“It is so weird and it is getting worse. We’ve really tried everything.”
Sarah, who has two step-daughters, has developed a range of neurological problems following years of migraines, and now finds it hard to complete everyday tasks.
She said: “The really severe migraines cause paralysis and the inability to speak. I forget how to feed myself and have major problems with temperature control.”
Sarah’s husband Patrick has also now been diagnosed with major health problems and had to give up work. Because of this, the couple have had to sell their house.
Sarah said: “We can’t afford to pay the mortgage on benefits.
“My husband has had to become my full-time carer and has been diagnosed with his own mental condition so neither of us are able to work.
“We are now looking to build an annexe at my mum’s house and live there.”
In 2013 the BBC aired a documentary on Sarah’s experiences called ‘The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese‘.
It was hoped the documentary would bring forward other sufferers or specialists in the field who might be able to help.
But two years on and Sarah says they’ve “exhausted” all treatment plans and are as clueless as they were.
She said: “It’s concerning for neurologists because my condition is not improving but getting worse and they don’t know why.
“Physically my brain looks okay, but I had another stroke before Christmas.
“We were hoping when the programme aired a specialist would come forward but nobody has.
“It’s such a rarity and now we such deal with the symptoms as and when they come on, and go to hospital when I need to. We are taking it day by day.”
At the moment Sarah needs seven hours a week personal care and her brain finds it difficult to cope with temperature changes, so going shopping or washing is very difficult.
Sarah’s mum Jennifer Lane said: “It has been physically and emotionally draining for all of us.
“There are so many on-going problems and so many things she can’t do.
“It is awful and very upsetting for the whole family to watch.”