Like sweet tea and grits, a Southern drawl was part of Donna Speer's identity.
She grew up in South Carolina and battled migraines throughout her life. One was so powerful that it choked off her voice for two days. When it came back, she was the same Donna -- but she sounded very different.
"I went to [a speech pathologist] and asked, she said, 'I think you've had a stroke,'" Speer said.
So the school teacher went to the emergency room. She'd later be diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome -- an incredibly rare disorder that's as strange as it sounds.
"In a lifetime, a neurologist may see one case. That's how uncommon it is," Dr. Souvik Sen said.
Sen, a neurologist, says it's caused by blood flow being cut off to the linguistic part of the brain. Usually that happens after a stroke. But he says a severe migraine could have the same effect. Whatever the cause, it's usually not easy on the patient.
"Quite often these patients are labeled as crazies because it doesn't fit into the common diseases we have out there," Sen said.
Speer's cousin, Marlow Kanipe, is slowly getting used to her new voices.
"Now it just seems normal to me, since I'm hearing it every day," Kanipe said. "It hasn't changed her personality or who she is, but it has changed how others treat her."
Speer has also had to deal with people who think she's faking the disease for attention.
"People are skeptical and I don't want them to be," Speer said.
Doctors don't know if speech therapy will help, but for now Speer is spreading the word and remains grateful that what took her Southern drawl didn't take her life.
"For me, I'm living one day at a time, and being grateful in each day," she said. "When you're grateful, it's hard to be angry."
Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.
On Your Side
Weather & Traffic