Dutch teenager, 17, woke up after knee operation forgetting how to speak his native language and only knew ENGLISH (and he also forgot who his parents were and thought he lived in Utah!)
- Dutch teen was in hospital for routine surgery on his knee after a football injury
- He awoke unable to speak his native tongue, and only communicated in English
- The boy also couldn’t recognise his own parents and thought he was in the US
- Medics believed he had foreign language syndrome an incredibly rare condition
A Dutch teenager completely forgot his native tongue after waking up from surgery and could only speak English, doctors have revealed.
The unidentified 17-year-old boy, thought to be from Maastricht, was in hospital for a knee operation following an injury during a football match.
But after he awoke from the anesthesia, he was unable to speak or understand any of the medics, who were speaking in Dutch.
Instead, he was only able to talk in English — a language he had only been learning at school and never used outside of the classroom.
The boy also failed to recognise his own parents and believed that he was in the US, specifically in Utah, a country he had never visited.
After 24 hours, the teenager ‘spontaneously’ recovered both his ability to speak and understand his native language after friends came to visit him.
And doctors who treated him, at the Maastricht University Medical Center, claim he has retained his native tongue since.
Detailing his case in a medical journal, scientists believe he developed an extremely rare case of foreign language syndrome.
A Dutch teenager awoke from an routine surgery unable to speak or understand his native language instead only speaking and comprehending English which he was learning at school (file image of Dutch clogs)
The condition occurs when people suddenly forget to speak their native tongue and rely on a second language instead. This can be language they haven’t spoke for years.
Little is known about foreign language syndrome because it is so rare, with just eight cases reported in scientific literature. Some bouts have lasted for minutes while others have gone for on for days.
Its exact cause remains a mystery but cases have been reported after surgery involving anesthesia or after a traumatic head injury.
And prior to the unnamed Dutch teenager, none of these were in children, according to Dr Husam Salamah and colleagues.
Writing in the Journal of Medical Case Reports, the team claimed the boy had spoke Dutch perfectly the morning of his operation.
However, after he came to from his routine knee surgery the boy only spoke English, was unable to recognise his parents, and insisted he was in Utah.
Foreign language syndrome: What do we know?
With just eight cases recorded worldwide in scientific literature there are scant details about foreign language syndrome.
How common is it?
Extraordinarily rare, there have been only eight post-operative cases recorded in scientific literature since 1999.
Other studies have reported a total of 60 cases worldwide sometimes as a result of a head injury.
In either case, considering the millions of operations carried out globally per year, as well as head injuries the odds of developing the syndrome are infinitesimal.
Though with so few cases it is unknown if any people are at a greater risk than others.
What are some examples?
Other post-operative cases reported include:
- A New Zealand man who woke only speaking Spanish but recovered after sleeping for an hour.
- An American man waking who only spoke Norwegian for five hours
- A Turkish man in the US who only spoke English after surgery for over 24 hours
Another case reported in 2016 was that of an Italian man who could only speak in French after a traumatic brain injury
How long does it last?
Some post-operative cases have resolved themselves in under 30 minutes while others have lasted for over a day.
Other cases involving brain injury are ongoing.
A nurse suspected the teen had emergence delirium, a condition where a patient is disorientated and confused upon waking from anesthesia.
However, after 18 hours efforts to get the boy to speak Dutch were still unsuccessful, prompting attending medics to ask for a psychiatric consultation.
Mr Salamah said upon meeting the teenager: ‘We found a relaxed, 17-year-old, well-groomed boy lying on the bed.
‘We shook hands upon greeting. He made adequate eye contact and was open to communication.
‘His attention could be attracted, and it was maintained well. During the interview, he was able to answer questions, but only in English, spoken with a Dutch accent.’
Some medics treating the boy considered his ability to speak English fluent.
About six hours later, and a total of 24 hours after the operation, some of the boy’s friends came to visit him.
At that point, the teenager began to ‘spontaneously’ understand and speak his native language again.
The next day he told medics that he was aware of being only able to speak and understand English, as well not being able to recognise his parents and believing that he was in the US.
After a series of regular checkups in the weeks and months after the operation the boy reported no difficulties in speaking or understanding Dutch.
However, almost a year after surgery the patient has reported ongoing problems with his memory, telling medics he couldn’t remember things as well as prior to his surgery.
But investigations showed no signs of cognitive impairment, with medics theorising that the, now 18-year-old, may have been ‘fixated’ on regular forgetfulness.
Foreign language syndrome is separate to foreign accent syndrome, a likewise rare condition where someone suddenly starts speaking in a different accent, but keep the same language, typically after a head injury or a stroke.
Considering the link between foreign language syndrome and waking from anesthesia, Mr Salamah said the condition could be related in some way to emergence delirium.
However he stressed that as the condition is so rare much remains unknown about the exact causes and a great deal of research remains to be done.
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