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‘I woke up with a Russian accent – doctors have no idea why’

The former singer was diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition that affects around 100 people worldwide

Ria Newman
Jam Press
Saturday 04 March 2023 18:06 GMT
Abby Fender after an operation to fix a herniated disc
Abby Fender after an operation to fix a herniated disc (Jam Press)

A woman who has three different accents has revealed the terrifying ordeal she’s suffered after suddenly being unable to speak in her native drawl.

When Abby Fender woke up after surgery to fix a herniated disc, she was shocked to discover her vocals were “paralysed” and her Texan accent had disappeared.

A week later, the former singer said she began speaking in a thick Russian accent without any connection to the country or ever having been there and doctors don’t know why.

Abby, 39, was eventually diagnosed with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a condition so rare it only affects around 100 people worldwide.

“I’m scared and terrified of never being able to speak normally again," she told

“I woke up from my surgery and immediately knew something was very wrong with my voice, as I couldn't speak with any volume.

“Soon, I began to feel the pitch of my voice go very, very high and we called it the 'Russian Minnie Mouse voice' where I sounded like a cartoon character all the time.

“Strangers I spoke to laughed in my face and I never got upset, because it was funny to begin with, but not anymore.”

More recently, her accent has switched to Ukrainian and Australian, and Abby says she often has to lie about where she's from to avoid any further questions.

Pictured: A scan of Abby’s neck with new fused plates and screws with disc replacements. (Jam Press)

She said: “I don’t want to lie about where I’m from, yet sometimes, I do because it’s easier.

“Every time I do this, I feel like I’m denying who I really am and that’s not a good feeling, but I get asked: ‘Where are you from’ at least 10 times a day.

“I remember once I said that I was Ukrainian and the other person started speaking to me in their native tongue.

“I had no clue what to do, so I had to confess but before the current war, this wasn’t ever an issue, as no one asked questions.

“Now, this isn’t so simple, so I try to avoid saying where I’m from and instead, tell them what type of accent they’re hearing.

“It’s given me permission not to go into the details of my condition, which no one can relate to or will hardly believe is real, although I’m not lying.”

While she’s learned to accept her condition, the former singer says that not everyone is as kind and claims she’s experienced subtle “racism” as a result.

A video grab of Abby talking and explaining her rare condition in an Australian accent (Jam Press Vid)

Speaking about the incident, she said: “Police officers assume I’m from a foreign country and that I’m not all familiar with the ‘laws of the land.’

“One time, an officer explained: ‘You know, we don’t drive like that here. You may be able to wherever you’re from.’ I’m treated as if I’m not even American... like I’m an outsider.”

Prior to surgery, she was a professional singer, havinf started singing at the age of 11.

After the initial blow, she recalls being unable to sustain the pitch she once had, as well as having a different toned of voice.

Soon, she started to feel “trapped” and decided to seek out medical advice after losing her “gift” suddenly, with no solution in sight.

She said: “It’s been incredibly difficult to be given any diagnosis, but many medical professionals don’t believe Foreign Accent Syndrome is real.

“I have been so disappointed, but I’ve gone through every test known to man, such as MRIs and CT scans, all to determine the cause of my speech dysfunction.

“I have been diagnosed with everything, from general speech dysfunction to Dystonia, a form of muscle spasm and contractions.

“However, nothing has ever pinpointed why I went to sleep with a southern accent and woke up sounding like this.

“It’s so bizarre and scary not knowing what is causing this to happen, but after finding help in January 2021, I was thrilled.”

Abby after her first surgery (Jam Press)

Now, she claims her “excellent” singing pitch is back, which she believes is due to muscle memory and the help of therapy.

She said: “I saw a wonderful speech pathologist who helped me lower my pitch and mentally relax my neck muscles enough to slip into my natural speaking voice.

“I couldn’t believe it, as it was a miracle to hear my own voice again. With one vocal cord working, doctors said holding pitch wouldn't be possible, but they were wrong.

“It was like coming home after a very long trip, but this wasn’t to last, as only by using certain techniques such as blowing bubbles into a bottle of water using a straw, will I get my old accent back.”

Now, she’s dealing with an Australian accent and claims this has been harder to accept, as dealing with three is “uncontrollable”.

Abby recovering at her parents’ ranch. (Jam Press)

Due to her ordeal, she’s received support from her mother, Jane, 72, and her father, David, 75, who have helped her find inner acceptance and peace.

Abby added: “I’m starting to feel OK with everything, but of course, my most recent change has stirred up unexpected feelings of fear and embarrassment. I don’t like not being in control or knowing what I’m going to sound like. It’s very scary.

“I believe something happened during the surgery that may have had a serious impact on the Broca portion of my brain, which controls the way we say different words and our general pitch when speaking, but we’ll never know.

“It’s been frustrating on levels I cannot even describe, as knowing how and what I want to say, but being unable to verbalise it is a curse I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

“I am totally at the mercy of my brain and for the first time in my life, I don’t know how to control my voice, but I’m so grateful for the Foreign Accent Syndrome, as without it, I wouldn’t be able to speak at all.”

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