鶹 swimmer suffers stroke – and develops French accent

Jack Allan who is recovering from a stroke caused by a kick-boxing accident. Picture: JON GUEGAN. (38290554)

JACK Allan has always been determined to succeed.

Determined to succeed at school. Determined to succeed at swimming, his favourite sport. Determined to succeed at university and at mixed martial arts.

And determined to succeed in learning to walk and talk again after suffering a severe stroke following an MMA sparring session last October.

But it was as he started to utter his first few words in the weeks after an innocuous kick to the head resulted in a freak brain injury that he realised he would have to succeed in something else, something no-one could have foreseen, something unexpectedly Gallic.

“When I started talking it was a bit weird,” says Jack, sitting in the living room of the home in St Clement he shares with his parents Shannon and Andy and brother James.

“I had developed a French accent.”

Not only was he facing the huge challenge of teaching himself to communicate, but he now had the additional task of shaking off an unwanted European twang.

It was indeed weird and unexpected. But everything about why Jack found himself in this position was weird and unexpected.

The then 20-year-old had already earned a name for himself as a highly successful swimmer, representing 鶹 at the NatWest Island Games in Gotland and Gibraltar, and at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.

But he had by now developed an interest in martial arts, training both in 鶹 and at Loughborough University where, by the day of the accident, he was in his third year of a degree in economics and finance.

On 25 October, he was enjoying some light sparring at the university gym, nothing heavy or intense, nothing out of the ordinary.

“The guy I was with managed to land a head kick on me and that caused a sharp pain in my left hemisphere and sat me down,” says Jack.

“It was all a bit cloudy but I thought I had just got rocked as I had been rocked before and it goes away in about five minutes.

“I sat there for about ten minutes not talking. And I felt my arm getting weak and my leg getting weak and my mates were like ‘Do you want to do jiu-jitsu rounds?’ and I said ‘okay’ and then I got up and just collapsed on the right side and my speech went.

“The guy who kicked me rushed me to hospital and there they assessed me and realised I needed to go to Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, which luckily is the second-best place for head-injury treatment in the UK and it wasn’t far away.

“I was fully paralysed on the right side and I couldn’t communicate in any way.

“I understood everything that came in but I couldn’t get anything out. I couldn’t spell. I couldn’t even spell cat.”

The kick itself had been nothing out of the ordinary. It was, says Jack, “just a massive freak accident”. But it had resulted in an unusual bleed – not a bleed on the surface of the brain, but one deep inside.

“They can do surgery on surface bleeds, but my bleed was deep in the centre and they couldn’t perform surgery so they had to wait and keep their fingers crossed.”

A week and a half after being rushed to the Queen’s Medical Centre, Jack began to feel the first flickers of movement in his leg on his paralysed right side.

About a week later he was brought back to 鶹 by air ambulance and taken to the Samarès rehabilitation ward at Overdale, where he would stay until January the following year.

It was there where medics diagnosed a condition which staff at Nottingham had suspected – foreign accent syndrome.

By now, Jack’s speech was slowly beginning to improve. But the more he spoke, the more it sounded as though he should have been born about 20 miles or so to our east.

“I noticed my French accent straight away. It was actually a bit French-Dutch.

“And the more tired or frustrated I got, the more French the accent became.”

Foreign accent syndrome is a rare condition, which usually results from a stroke or serious head injury, but can also be caused by a severe migraine.

Only a few dozen cases have been reported worldwide, including a man from the US who developed what was described in the British Medical Journal as an “uncontrollable Irish brogue accent”.

There have been others in the British Isles, too.

“I remember seeing something on Instagram years ago about a woman from Birmingham who developed a Chinese accent after suffering a traumatic brain injury and I thought ‘nah that’s not real’. And then I got my French accent and I was like, ah ‘it might be real’.”

Jack added: “My friends thought it was funny and they took the mickey. But it was just another challenge to get over.

“It’s not something that would have just gone away by itself. I had to work with speech and language therapists to get English sounds back. We started with syllables and then once we had done that we moved on to words and then to paragraphs and then conversations and then we sped it up.

“It was a lot of work. I would say the last time you could properly hear a French accent was five or six weeks ago, but even now, when I am tired, there is a little French twang.”

Jack Allan, who is recovering from a stroke caused by a kick-boxing accident. Pictured doing press ups as part of his rehabilitation programme Picture: JON GUEGAN. (38290548)

Jack is a man who exudes confidence and self-determination, and appears to have a complete inability to accept anything other than success.

It is this attitude that has propelled him forward in his road to recovery, all documented on his Instagram account, which shows a rapid transformation in his physical ability over the last few months.

The bleed – about the size of a 5p coin – effectively killed off a small area of his brain, so Jack’s life is now all about creating new “neural pathways” to enable his body to do what came naturally before the stroke.

The rehabilitation which began during his time in Samarès is continuing, both at home and at specialist centres in the UK.

He has spent time at the Hobbs rehabilitation centre in Bristol, where he underwent rigorous walking and hand and arm exercises four hours a day, every day, for weeks at a time.

The now 21-year-old has also benefited enormously from the Matt Hampson Foundation – named after the former rugby union player who was paralysed from the neck down in 2005 after a scrum collapsed on him during a training session for the England Under-21 team – which provides support and treatment to anyone aged 16 or over suffering serious injury from a sporting activity.

And when back at home, Jack puts himself through a relentless training and rehabilitation programme in his unshakeable quest to return to normality.

The regime has transformed his life. Less than a year ago he was unable to walk or talk. But now he communicates with apparent ease, only occasionally tripping over his words, and he can now walk, swim and exercise, although his right side still lacks some movement.

“A typical day would be like today – oxygen therapy in the morning, then the gym, then chiropractor in the afternoon and maybe physio, and then swimming at Haute Vallée with [swimming coach] Nathan [Jegou] and then in my spare time at home doing hand rehab and other stuff. I am always just on it. And then I go to sleep and make sure I have a good sleep and then I am up again and on it.

“I am seeing massive progress. I have just come back from a six-week package in the UK and the people who have seen me all said that my speech and running and walking were all better.”

He added: “People say that after a year following a bleed you won’t make any further recovery. That’s false. Young people like me will continue the recovery for the rest of their lives.

“There’s a guy who had a similar thing in America and 14 years later he is still continuing to recover.

“I’ll never stop and hopefully I’ll get back to normal and be able to do normal things in a couple of years.”

It’s clear that Jack, who went to Vic Prep, Vic College and then to the Mount Kelly boarding school in the UK after getting a scholarship for his swimming, doesn’t really do failure.

He has worked hard for everything he has achieved in life, including being one of only 12, out of 3,000 applicants, to get an internship at Nomura investment bank in London during his second year at university.

And he credits it all to one thing.

“I got my work ethic from swimming. That’s where all this comes from. Training 20-plus hours a week and getting up at 4am to go training at 5am and going after school and going to the gym. It’s all about hard work.”

Jack now plans to return to university to complete his degree before going on to take a masters, preferably, he says, at Cambridge.

And he hopes to raise money for the Matt Hampson Foundation – a charity that has played such an important part in his recovery.

Despite his ordeal, he does not appear bitter. There is no “why me?” in his story. In fact, there’s nothing but positivity.

“The kick wasn’t that hard. It was a light spar. They have done tests and can’t find any underlying issues which may have caused it. I don’t want this to sound negative in any way to MMA. It was just a massive freak accident.

“I always said, from when I could first talk after this, ‘what’s the point in being negative?’

“What does that do for you? I saw a quote at the Matt Hampson Foundation ‘You can’t change the wind, adjust your sails’.

“If something is out of your control, focus on what you can do. That is my mindset and it is that which will get me back to normal. I think it will be two years before all function gets back and four or five years before it feels normal, but I will definitely get there. No doubt.”

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