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Chat: Cindy Hastings

Monday, October 15, 2012

Interviewer: 60 Minutes presents a live interview with Cindy Hastings.

Interviewer: Welcome to our chat this evening, Cindy.

Cindy Hastings: Thank you for having me I'm looking forward to answering the questions tonight.

Interviewer: Let's hop straight into the questions.

Nick asks: How was the illness contracted?

Cindy Hastings: The illness started with a change in a medication that controlled my epilepsy which I have had since I was 21 years of age. The medication I was taking I'd been taking for a very long time but I'd had break through seizures and it was important to get control of them. The new medication I experienced serious reaction to and over a period of one to three weeks, lost my speech. Then when it was determined I was having a reaction I was weaned off that one and given a different medication to try and control the seizures. Over the next two to three months once I had ceased the one I reacted to, my seizures were under control but I evolved to have an accent. This is now what you hear in the interview. In the earlier days my speech was much slower and very difficult to put a sentence together. I have adapted myself where now my accent is still very strong but some fluency has arisen because I've persisted with it. I'm not going to let this beat me and this is really the message I want to get to people.

KatieQ75 asks: Hi There, Cindy! I am a teacher and have been overseas. I was just wondering if your care-givers have thought of treating your condition as a speech impediment and tried to treat you with speech therapy? You are a brave lady, by the way!

Cindy Hastings: I have commenced speech therapy and we are in the early days yet. My condition is the result of acquired brain injury to my speech and language centre of the brain particularly the left side. I am hopeful over time I can improve my ability to speak but I am also a realist and the research I have access to from my specialist and other researchers is that more often than not we do not return to pre-catalyst condition A catalyst can be brain injury or stroke. Part of the acceptance and recovery from this life changing condition is letting go, accepting the way I am and moving forward.

BreN asks: Was the accent you have now one you were able to mimmick before you got the disorder?

Cindy Hastings: No it wasn't. I am 4th 5th and 6th generation Australian I have had my ancestry documented and my family tree done and it is a combination of English, Scottish and Danish.

amandamark asks: How has your family coped with this?

Cindy Hastings: This entire experience has been the most difficult for the family firstly having to repeat what I say, explain what I mean, because it's difficult to use the right words and it's extremely different to what they were used to. The other side is that on occasion when I am unwell, that I am unable to function the way I used to, which means they have to look after me and do things for me. And speak for me. It's very hard when sometimes they don't know what I am trying to say.

Sarabee asks: Would you, if you ever had the chance to, go back and never take that medication knowing what could occur? I admire your strength Cindy

Cindy Hastings: Of course I would but at the time I trusted what I was being told and I was not informed at that time of the side effects of that particular medication so I had no idea this could be a possibility.

KatieQ75 asks: Would you consider that your condition is similar to a stroke patient who needs to learn how to speak again? Is it that your brain has decided that in order to speak, it needs to process things differently and as a subsequent an interpreted 'accent' is detectable?

Cindy Hastings: Yes, because people who experience strokes have damage to parts of their brain, what I have been through is damage to my speech and language centre in my brain. From my research and what I've been able to learn, it's not that my brain has decided it's that the neuro pathways are either damaged or lost, or there is a breakdown. This means that the function of speech from my brain to what you hear is different which from receiver end is interpreted as accent. It is more about the psychomotor function of speech which means it is the intonation, the pronunciation and fluency of the way a person speaks, sounds different. From what I have learned this more about prosidy of speech and this is why people hear the accent, because the sound ends up sounding like an accent. Put simply it's the way our tongue our jaw and our mouth forms sound.

jacqui7207 asks: I was upset that you could not work in your business anymore. Was that your confidence that stopped you at the time?

Cindy Hastings: No it is not confidence, my profession as a career practitioner involved extremely high levels of communication, skills which means being able to listen and be understood by my clients. In my work I support people who choose a career, change their career or are having to go through career crisis. I've studied at post-graduate level and with this condition it's not just my speech that is affected I have also experienced cognitive deficit. I find now that anything that requires analysis, synthesis, long periods of concentration and higher level language skills for speaking and writing, is quite challenging. My memory is also affected and I pride myself on what I can do to help my clients. Losing the level of functionality that I used to have means that I also struggle with supporting my clients at the same standard. I would prefer to keep doing the work I would love to do but my health is more important and this means I've had to let go of it and focus on trying to recover as best I an and be here for my family first. I won't give up on it but I'm also a realist and if I was helping a client in this situation I'd advise them to look after themselves first. I had to make a very tough decision to retire from my practise.

KatieQ75 asks: Do you think they should change this condition's title? I think "Foreign Accent Syndrome" is not an accurate description of its affliction.

Cindy Hastings: Because there is not a lot known about this yet and it is so rare, perhaps it should be renamed because the accent is only one very small part of the condition. There are many other sufferers who have other significant impairments that affect their ability to function. As there are only possibly 60 to 80 cases since 1904 I would like to think that as a result of this story going to air that academics and medical professionals may become more interested so that more research can be done and then possibly the condition may have a more appropriate name. It is much more than a foreign accent, there are so many other things that I have lost and other sufferers of this condition, to my knowledge, over the last few months struggle with it every day. Thank you for you question.

Interviewer: Unfortunately we are out of time. Do you have any final words before we finish?

Cindy Hastings: I thank you all for your interest in this story and that you have taken up some of your valuable time to ask questions. I wish that we had more time so I could share more with you. That 60 Minutes has bothered to spend time and valuable resources to present this story world wide is a beginning. Myself and those I have become to know with this condition appreciate that our story has gone to air. Every day is a new day, every day brings a new challenge, for us life is very different but we do the best we can. Thank you for having me tonight. One more thing there are many people in the world that are far worse off than us, and we are grateful for what we can do each and every day.

Interviewer: Cindy, again thanks very much for your time this evening.

Interviewer: This concludes our chat with Cindy Hastings, Sunday October 14, 2012.

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