Rare condition cost 49-year-old her job as sales executive:
A grandmother who went to bed suffering from a migraine was amazed to wake up speaking with a French accent.
Kay Russell, 49, is now left with a voice that is unrecognisable to family and friends.
Doctors say she has Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition which damages the part of the brain that controls speech and word formation.
Mrs Russell has suffered from migraines for 20 years.
Their effects are normally limited to temporarily paralysing her limbs and causing slurred speech.
But since January 4 this year, she has not spoken with her natural accent.
After one bad migraine, she was left with slurred speech for two weeks and made an appointment to have an MRI scan and see a neurologist.
Then one day she simply woke up with a French accent.
‘As a sufferer of this syndrome you are not trying to speak in an accent, it is a speech impediment,’ Mrs Russell said.
‘Whatever accent you hear, it is in the ears of the listener.’
She is most commonly mistaken for French or Eastern European, but she said the syndrome goes deeper than her voice.
‘My facial muscle movements are different, the inclination is different and the pronunciation.
‘It also affects my hands and makes me write with a foreign accent. For example, I say peoples not people and that is how I would write it.’
Mrs Russell, from Bishop Cleeve in Somerset, misses out function words such as ‘a’, ‘of’ and ‘to’ and cannot put on any other accent.
She has revealed her plight in a bid to raise awareness of the condition.
Foreign Accent Syndrome can last for days, weeks, months, years or forever and there is currently no known cure.
Mrs Russell said: ‘A lot of people come up and say “what a lovely voice you have”.
‘You lose your identity and an awful lot about yourself. I feel like I come across as a different person.’
Mrs Russell, who has two grown-up children and five grandchildren, had to quit her job as a sales executive for Cheltenham-based cleaning solutions company Premiere Products because the condition meant she was unable to carry out her role.
She said the accent is not linked to any part of her life, although she studied for a French O-level when she was younger and has travelled across the Channel a few times in her life.
While her immediate family now know her voice, others struggle to recognise her.
She said: ‘I rang up a friend I had known since I was a teenager and the last time I had spoken to her I was speaking in my old voice.
‘It took me a while to explain it was me.’
When she tried to get her car insured on the phone, the staff insisted she tell them how long she had lived in the UK.
Now she has to wait until a solution is found.
‘I have to manage the way I live. When I first went out in public I was a bit like a rabbit in headlights,’ she said.
Foreign Accent Syndrome 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.
In March this year Sarah Colwill, from Plymouth, lost her local West Country twang when she woke up with a Chinese accent following a severe migraine – Dailymail