Los Angeles| A 53-year old man who spent six days in the coma after presumably being assaulted in August, still has no memory of his former life and can only speak… in ancient Hebrew!
The man was found unconscious in a California motel on August 9. He had with him a duffel bag of exercise clothes, a backpack and tennis rackets. He carried a California identification card and a Social Security card, both identifying him as Jamal Miller.
When he woke up in the Cedars-Sinai hospital days later, he had no memory of his past and could only speak in an unknown language. For three days, the puzzle remained complete until a rabbi visiting a friend in a nearby room, identified the tongue as ancient Hebrew and was able to communicate with the poor man.
“His memories don’t match his former life, at all,” says Dr. James Mackenzie, who is responsible for Mr. Miller’s case. “For some reason, he seems to have lost all his previous knowledge, but also to have gained the memories of an ancient Jewish fisherman. He speaks ancient Hebrew, talks of fishes and boats… I have never seen anything like this.”
Dr. Mackenzie believes a traumatic event may have triggered the confusion. After consulting some speech-language pathologists, neurologists, neuropsychologists, and psychologists, he was able to determine that Mr. Miller’s memory problems might be caused by a combination of two relatively rare disorders called Transient Global Amnesia and Foreign Language Syndrome.
The Foreign language syndrome occurs after a serious accident or injury to the brain which renders victims unconscious. When the patients come around they find themselves talking in completely different languages that they weren’t able to speak prior to the incident. This may continue for only a temporary period; alternatively some patients may find themselves speaking this completely new language for a prolonged period of time.
“This is one of the most extreme case of amnesia and memory disorders that I have ever heard about” says Dr. Mackenzie. “It’s impossible to tell if he will regain his past memories, and if his “new” memories will disappear. This is a really unique case, as people with Foreign Language Syndrome usually learn a language they had previously been exposed to, so it’s really hard to predict what could happen in Mr. Miller’s case.”
Foreign language syndrome cases are extremely rare around the world, yet when they do they attract significant attention due to their uniqueness.
One the most extreme cases ever recorded, occurred in April 2012, when a 17-year-old Malaysian student involved in a motorbike accident emerged from unconsciousness speaking four new languages: Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Indonesian. In what was considered to be an extreme form of this syndrome, the language changed on a daily basis, lasting for several hours at a time.