'I Miss Your French Accent'


Pointing to a scan, Fridriksson said, "You can see this small white spot. This is the lesion that occurred as a result of the stroke. It just so happens the lesion hit a crucial part of that brain-speech network. And what it basically does is that it affects our ability to monitor speech."

In some ways, Stabler's was what you might call a textbook case of foreign accent syndrome.

Other cases are not so clear-cut. Jack Ryalls, a professor at the University of Central Florida, believes one of his patients, Julie Diechburg, has foreign-accent syndrome, even though there is no evidence of a brain lesion. She was injured in a terrible car crash and suffers from memory problems and has exhibited accented speech off and on.

Putting a name to her problem has brought Diechburg some comfort. "You don't feel like you are a freak, and you don't think there's no hope for you. That if someone else has it then maybe they can give you the hope that you need to go on," she said.

Ryalls also diagnosed another woman who appeared on "Good Morning America" and the Discovery Channel three years ago.

She not only speaks with a British-sounding accent, she uses British expressions, such as the word "lift" instead of elevator and "mum" instead of mom. Her speech is something Ryalls can't explain. He calls it "atypical."

Back in Michigan, Bowen -- whose accent has unexpectedly come and gone over the past four years -- is still looking for answers and coping day to day with a healthy dose of humor.

"I really just want to know what the heck is going on in my head," she said.

Bowen had her ninth MRI in April. The MRI showed some indication of multiple sclerosis, but was also inconclusive. Bowen says she still has the accent and is still frustrated to have no real answers.

Experts say about half of all foreign-accent syndrome patients never recover.

Those that do recover, like Stabler, do so relatively quickly, within a year or two.

Recently, Dr. Fridriksson believes he discovered why. A brain scan he performed on Stabler, called a functional MRI, showed evidence that his brain was rewiring itself, essentially working overtime to compensate for the damage.

"You can see the different colors. These actually signify increased blood flow to neuron areas. And these areas are now working overtime in Berley's brain," Fridriksson said.

Stabler's case doesn't just help doctors understand foreign-accent syndrome, it reveals information more general information on how the brain works following brain damage.

Deep inside Stabler's brain, there lie a few possible answers to the strange mysteries of the mind, though Stabler also says he's learned a little mystery is not always such a bad thing.

"Probably the funniest thing is, since the accent's gone away a lot of ladies will come up to me and say, 'Oh, it's good to have you back, but I really miss that sexy French accent.'"

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