'My stroke left me with foreign accent'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News
When Richard Murray called his banking clients, his strong Birmingham accent heavily laced with a Hereford twang made him instantly recognisable.
But a year ago, Richard, 30, had a stroke and lost the power of speech. Now he speaks with a heavy foreign accent.
Some say his accent is definitely French, others are sure it is Eastern European or Italian.
"Now when I call my clients and say 'It is me, Richard Murray', they say 'Who?'. They don't recognise my voice.
"So now when I speak to people I preface it with: 'I have had a stroke and this is why I speak with a foreign accent'.
"When I was first re-learning to speak the only words I could say were hi, bye, yes and no. So if anyone asked me anything else I was lost.
"I remember being at the till at the supermarket when I heard someone say 'bloody foreigner'.
"I have also had people expecting me to speak in foreign languages because of my accent."
Richard's health problems started when he broke his toe while on honeymoon in Mauritius in September 2005.
He flew back to the UK days later and developed a deep vein thrombosis (DVT), or blood clot.
Unbeknown to him, Richard had a hole in his heart which had been present from birth.
The blood clot had travelled through the hole into his brain and led to him having a stroke nine days later.
He was left unable to speak and without feeling down his right side.
He had the hole in his heart repaired and, with the help of a physiotherapist, he regained movement in his right side, but he had to relearn his speech from scratch.
"I didn't know much about stroke and just assumed that once the clot had dispersed that I would be able to speak again.
"I didn't know that it meant a part of my brain had been damaged and that I would have to learn to speak again."
He said that although speaking with a foreign accent was unusual, he was just delighted to be able to communicate again.
"I am quite a chatty man, so it was frustrating not to be able to join in conversations."
Researchers at Oxford University have found that patients with Foreign Accent Syndrome have suffered damage to the tiny areas of the brain that affect speech.
The result is often a drawing out or clipping of the vowels that mimic the accent of a particular country, such as Spain or France - even though the sufferer has limited exposure to that accent.
The syndrome was first identified during World War II, when a Norwegian woman suffered shrapnel damage to her brain. She developed a strong German accent which led to her being ostracised by her community.
Dr Keith Muir, a senior lecturer in neurology at the University of Glasgow, said that while the cause of the foreign accent was not known, many believed it to be simply damaged speech patterns.
"This only affects a very small percentage of people who have had strokes," he said.
"After a stroke the brain tends to reorganise itself, and you tend to find that someone who had an additional language loses it and has to relearn it and their other learned knowledge."
Dr Muir added that loss of speech and altered speech patterns could cause serious distress to people who had had strokes.
'It is quite common for people to be confused about speech and to have problems following stroke.
"But there can be quite pejorative implications put on people with slurred speech, such as that they have been drinking or that their intelligence is impaired."
Beverley Silke, of the Stroke Association said: "Someone in the UK has a stroke every five minutes.
"It is the leading cause of adult disability and Richard has shown true courage and determination in overcoming the effects of his stroke."