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Health

Teen wakes from coma speaking fluent Spanish

Reuben Nsemoh, 16, suffered a near-fatal concussion after being kicked in the head playing goalie for his travel soccer team. He is the latest case of Foreign Accent Syndrome (FAS).
24 Oct 2016 – 04:10 PM EDT
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Reuben Nsemoh Crédito: GoFundMe

A Georgia teen who survived a near-fatal concussion awoke from a coma speaking fluent Spanish, WSB radio reports.

Last month, 16-year-old Reuben Nsemoh was kicked in the head while playing goalie for his travel soccer team, the station reports. The teen suffered a severe concussion, his third concussion in his relatively short life.

According to WSB Radio, his coach, Bruno Kalonji, said it was the worst concussion he had ever seen in one of his players. “The ambulance came and they said he was having seizures because he might have bleeding in his brain,” Kalonji told the station.

The injury was so severe that Reuben was in a coma for three days. However, when he finally awoke, the Brookwood High School sophomore could not speak English, but instead was communicating in Spanish. “My friends would always talk to me in Spanish and would teach me,” Reuben told the station.

So-called Foreign Accent Syndrome is a rare speech disorder that has been documented in cases around the world, including accent changes from Japanese to Korean, British English to French, American-English to British English, and Spanish to Hungarian, according to the University of Texas at Dallas.

"FAS is most often caused by damage to the brain caused by a stroke or traumatic brain injury," according to the university's website. "Speech may be altered in terms of timing, intonation, and tongue placement so that is perceived as sounding foreign. Speech remains highly intelligible and does not necessarily sound disordered," it adds.

Here are some recent cases:

- United Kingdom: A 38-year-old woman was rushed to hospital with a severe migraine. When she woke up she spoke English with a Chinese accent.

- United States: Three years ago a U.S. Navy vet in California woke up with memory loss and speaking only Swedish. Earlier this year, a Texas woman who had surgery on her jaw wound up with a British accent.

- Australia: A former bus driver in Australia woke up after a car accident with a French accent.

In Reuben's case he never really spoke Spanish before, but now he was doing so fluently, WSB reported. Reuben thinks it was his subconscious remembering the language. “I wasn’t perfect, but my brother is a really fluent Spanish speaker. So he kind of inspired me with that too,” he said.

According to Fox Sports, as Reuben’s English has returned, his fluency in Spanish has faded, although he still continues to speak the second language. Despite suffering the scary injury, Reuben says he hopes to get back to playing the sport he loves once he is fully recovered. “It’s my passion. It’s the one thing I want to do for my career,” he said.

However, his coach told the station that the teen would not being doing so on his team without a helmet. Kalonji told the station that he thinks all goalies should be required to wear the protective gear. “This can happen even at practice. And if kids already have two concussions or three, it’s recommended that they wear one,” Kalonji said.

The teen has not yet returned to school as he continues to recover from the injury and it is still unclear when or if he’ll be able to play again.

“Sometimes I daze out,” the teen said. “Sometimes I feel like I’m not here, but I am.”

Reuben’s family has created a GoFundMe to help with his medical expenses.

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