California woman speaks with a New Zealand accent after car crash coma
California woman, 24, starts speaking with a NEW ZEALAND accent after waking up from a two-week coma (despite NEVER visiting the country) – following horrific car crash that left her with rare brain condition
- Summer Diaz, 24, from Los Angeles, was hit by an SUV while crossing the street last November, which caused her to develop foreign accent syndrome (FAS)
- FAS is a rare condition in which damage to the brain makes patients speak with an accent that is different than their natural speaking style
- Summer wasn’t able to speak vocally when she first woke up from her coma
- When she started talking again, she noticed changes to the way she was speaking, but she initially thought they were due to her being intubated
- Her accent became so strong that people started asking where she was from
- Summer said she had British and French accents before settling into her New Zealand accent, which she hopes to keep
- FAS can last months or years, or sometimes it may even be permanent
A California woman has revealed how she developed a strong New Zealand accent after a car accident left her in a coma for two weeks – despite having never even been there.
Summer Diaz, 24, from Los Angeles, was hit by an SUV while crossing the street on November 25 last year, which caused her to develop foreign accent syndrome, a rare condition in which damage to the brain makes someone speak differently.
‘I don’t remember anything about that day. I came home from my job working with children who have autism. I didn’t have a parking space at my apartment, so I had parked elsewhere and was walking across the street,’ she told Jam Press.
Side effect: Summer Diaz, 24, developed foreign accent syndrome (FAS) after a car accident left her in a coma for two weeks last November
Trauma: Summer was crossing the street when she was hit by an SUV and rushed to the nearest hospital with a broken pelvis, a broken shoulder, and a brain injury
‘I don’t know what happened, but, apparently, I was halfway across the crosswalk and I was hit by the SUV.’
The driver called for help and Summer was rushed to the nearest hospital, where they discovered she had suffered a host of injuries, including a broken pelvis, a broken shoulder, and a brain injury.
She spent two weeks in an induced coma, and because the accident occurred during the pandemic, her family and boyfriend weren’t even able to visit regularly.
Summer recalled feeling disoriented and confused when she finally woke up in the hospital.
‘I could hear people saying, “You’re at the hospital, Summer,”‘ she said. ‘They asked me to say the alphabet and I knew quite a bit of sign language, so I signed it. I could not speak vocally when I woke up.
‘I was able to do the whole thing and the staff actually asked my parents if I was deaf because of the sign language. My parents said no, but I did know how to sign from taking classes in university.’
As Summer slowly started talking again, she noticed changes to the way she was speaking, but she initially thought they were due to her being intubated while she was in a coma.
‘I pulled out my tubes when I woke up causing some damage. Due to this I also have a condition called dysphagia, making swallowing difficult,’ she explained. ‘I remember trying to speak to people and my voice sounded different.
‘Then my boyfriend got special permission to visit me, and he has an accent as he is from England. He was talking to me and I felt like I was enunciating quite a bit and that it sounded different, but he said he couldn’t quite hear it.
‘Then I went to rehab and my voice started to get a bit better. I was working with speech therapists, but I was still speaking quite slowly, so it was hard to hear anything. As my voice got stronger people started to hear the accent more.’
Support system: Summer’s British boyfriend sent her text messages while she was in the hospital during the pandemic
Exchanges: Summer was able to reach out to her friends via text message after she got her cellphone back
Strange occurrence: Summer chatted with her friends about her changing accents, which varied throughout her recovery
Summer’s new accent eventually became so strong that people would question where she was from because she didn’t have an American one.
‘My nurses would come in and say, “Where are you from?” and wouldn’t believe me when I said, “I’m from here,”‘ she said. ‘I would explain I was born here but they would say, “But you have an accent.” I had to explain that it wasn’t my accent, and I just started doing it.’
Throughout her recovery, Summer has gone through a range of accents, with some lasting just a few hours and others staying for months.
‘I had a very British accent, close to my boyfriend’s for a while. I had a French one at one point and briefly, I was Russian. At the minute, it’s settled on an Australian or New Zealand accent.’
Summer has never even been to Australia or New Zealand, but people frequently assume she was born or grew up there.
Rehabilitation: After spending around a month in the hospital and in rehab, Summer was well enough to return home
Inspiring: She was also able to go back to college to finish the four classes required to complete her degree in psychology. She graduated in August
Doctor’s appointment: An MRI officially diagnosed Summer with FAS on August 9
‘I went back to the fire station to meet the people who brought me to the hospital the other day and give them cake,’ she said.
‘I saw the fire chief and I could tell on the phone he had an accent, but when I met him, he said, “Is that an Australian or New Zealand accent?” I explained it was New Zealand, but he asked where I was from, and I had to say I’m from here and he laughed.
‘One thing that was hard for me was figuring out how to answer back when people ask about the accent,’ she added. ‘Do I go with where they think I am from or tell them the truth and get into talking about a whole incident with a stranger?’
There isn’t much treatment for FAS available, but it may eventually go away on its own. Summer actually loves having a new accent, and she is happy to wait and see what happens.
‘If I get hit by a car but get to the keep the accent, I’m OK with that – that’s the best part. That’s fun,’ she said. ‘I was always texting my friends telling them I really want to keep it because I really like accents.’
After spending around a month in the hospital and in rehab, Summer was well enough to return home.
Diagnosis: FAS is a rare condition in which damage to the brain makes patients speak with an accent that is different than their natural speaking style
Aftermath: In addition to her new accent, Summer is unable to work long hours or stand on her feet for long periods of time. She relies on a wheelchair and a cane
Lesson: ‘I almost died so I try to enjoy the things I want to enjoy and be kind to others,’ she said. ‘I appreciate art and books more and enjoy the company of my loved ones more’
She was also able to go back to college to finish the four classes required to complete her degree in psychology while continuing with her outpatient treatment.
This allowed her to access the university library to research more about her condition, which helped her officially get a diagnosis with an MRI on August 9, 2021.
Now, almost a year on from the accident, Summer’s accent is still far from what it was like before and her traumatic brain injury has caused a permanent disability.
‘I’m exhausted often. I am left with a lifelong disability. I cannot work long hours at work, my stamina is poor, and I cannot do simple everyday activities,’ she said.
‘I rely on a cane when my leg aches and a wheelchair for long distances or for areas where I would have to be standing for a long period of time.
‘I have a caregiver that helps me with my regular household chores and meal prepping. Every task requires energy, and if I am too exhausted, I cannot perform some tasks later on in the day or the next day.
What is Foreign Accent Syndrome?
Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS) is a rare disorder in which patients speak with an accent that is different than 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 trauma to the brain, bleeding in the brain, a brain tumor, or multiple sclerosis.
It has only been recorded 100 times since its discovery in 1907.
It causes suffers to pronounce vowels in different manners, move their tongue and jaw differently while speaking to produce a different sound, and even substitute words for others they may not normally use.
FAS can last months or years, or sometimes it may even be permanent.
‘Certain things will improve over time, but other things will remain the same.’
As well as the physical side of her injury, the accent has had an impact on her work caring for children with autism.
‘I often pronounce my name as sum-mah and sometimes they hear it as so-mah,’ she explained. ‘I have had kids be confused if my accent switches the next day, so much to the point where they have asked where the other Summer went as they don’t quite understand my condition.
‘Learning how to navigate with a disability in the workplace has been a bit tricky for me,’ she added. ‘While this has had many downsides, it has caused my health to be more of a priority to me.
‘I almost died so I try to enjoy the things I want to enjoy and be kind to others. I appreciate art and books more and enjoy the company of my loved ones more.
‘I see the accent and what happened as something that will always be a conversation starter and a story to tell.’
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