Sarah Colwill Speaks Out About Foreign Accent Syndrome In BBC Documentary 'The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese'

09/04/2013 05:29 pm ET | Updated Sep 05, 2013

When Sarah Colwill, 38, was hospitalized for an intense migraine in 2010, she awoke to an astounding sound—her voice.

Her familiar English accent had been replaced by what sounded like a poor impression of a Chinese person, leaving doctors scratching their heads.

Her predicament was a side effect of a rare neurological condition called Foreign Accent Syndrome.

Colwill is one of just 150 confirmed cases ever of FAS, according to the Independent. The condition is most often caused by damage to the brain brought on by a stroke or traumatic brain injury, UT Dallas reports.

In a new BBC documentary ‘The Woman Who Woke Up Chinese,’ which aired Tuesday, Colwill’s life with an alien voice proves to be less like an episode of Summer Heights High and more like a nightmare.

"It's just been such a horrible thing to go through,” Colwill says teary-eyed in the opening scenes of the documentary.

"You don't even know who you are anymore...It's like you're trapped inside yourself."

Certain scenarios explored in the documentary make the condition seem near comical: Colwill’s asked to say "chopsticks" by her speech therapist, the pressure she receives to order fried-rice at a restaurant and the necessity of avoiding certain phrases.

Colwill explains, "I always say 'you can not', because otherwise it comes out, 'you c***'."

But the symptoms of her illness are much more tragic. They also include a loss of vocabulary and physical pain while trying to write English.

In the BBC doc, Colwill finds solace with a fellow sufferer of FAS, Kay Russell, 52, who after a terrible migraine was left with a French accent in place of her British accent.

"You feel so alone so when somebody pops up and says "actually, I have it," she says on camera. "They sound foreign and they have to deal with it in the same way as me."

According to NBC’s chief medical editor Dr. Nancy Snyderman, speaking in a segment on the Today show in 2011, some cases have reportedly cleared over time.

While there is currently no cure for FAS, one clue that may help scientists understand the condition is migraines. Colwill says she gets them around 10 times a month. Russell also suffered for years from terrible headaches.

In recent years there have been similar cases of others waking to the startling discovery of a new lint. In 2012 an Englishman, Alun Morgan, awoke from a massive stroke to find that he spoke fluent Welsh, despite never learning the language.

In June, an Australian woman spoke out about her personal struggle with FAS for eight years, having developed a French accent after surviving a car crash in which she broke her back and jaw.

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