Why are traumatic brain injuries so different from other kinds of accident injuries? Unlike broken bones or lacerations, brain injuries can permanently change your perception, your personality, and your abilities – just ask 45-year-old Robin Jenks Vanderlip, a Virginia, Fairfax woman who suffered a serious slip and fall accident and woke up with a Russian accent.
In May of 2007, Vanderlip fell down a flight of stairs and struck her head. Although she had never been to Russia – or ever heard a Russian accent to her memory – the woman woke up sounding as if she had been born in the faraway country. Three years later, she is still burdened with not sounding like herself or her culture.
Virginia doctors diagnosed Vanderlip with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a rare and little-understood consequence of head injuries and brain damage. While fewer than 60 cases have been documented since it was originally discovered during the 1940s, scientists have taken an interest in the odd disease, which has also made a Louisiana woman speak with a Cajun accent, an English woman to speak like a Jamaican, and a Japanese man speak with a Korean accent.
Foreign Accent Syndrome can change your life – in one case, a Norwegian woman was ostracized from her community after she hit her head and developed a German accent. In all cases, patients will never again hear the sound of their own voice – and struggle through life explaining that they aren’t from where it sounds like they are from. While it is sometimes easy to put a price on an accident injury, the real cost of traumatic brain injuries is harder to determine.