Karen Butler, Oregon Woman, Develops Foreign Accent After Surgery
Karen Butler has a British-sounding accent, but she's never been to Europe. She woke up from dental surgery one day talking funny. A year and a half later her "foreign" accent remains, and her story has traveled around the world.
The 56-year-old tax consultant from Toledo, Ore., has found her life transformed by the dental procedure, which left her with dentures, and – depending on whom you ask – an Eastern European, Swedish or British accent.
Butler had all her top teeth and front bottom teeth removed in November 2009 because of gingivitis. A week later the swelling had gone away, but she still sounded strange. Her dentist told her she just had to get used to her new teeth.
But as weeks stretched on with no change, Butler did some online research. She diagnosed herself with Foreign Accent Syndrome, a medical condition with only a few dozen documented cases.
The syndrome is often the result of brain injury; though it is uncommon, most neurologists will see at least one case in their career, said Dr. Helmi Lutsep, professor and vice-chair of the Department of Neurology at Oregon Health & Science University. Sometimes a person just sounds slightly off; other times there may be a more dramatic-sounding accent, Lutsep said.
"We don't know exactly how or why it happens, but it simply affects rhythm of language," Lutsep said. "I'm absolutely convinced this is a real phenomenon. These people are not making it up."
Butler believes she hasn't had a stroke or any brain trauma. She said she has tried, but hasn't been able to get a brain scan because she said her medical insurance will not cover it.
"There's nothing wrong with having an accent," said Butler, who was born in Bloomington, Ill., and moved to Oregon before she turned one.
In Toledo, a small town of about 3,500 people, Butler is a novelty with her exotic accent. And that was before she went on the "Today" show and was featured on more than a dozen other television shows, newspaper articles and radio stations from Europe to Australia.