WOOD RIVER — Melissa Hall lives in Wood River, but sounds like she belongs near the Thames.
Since June 20, Hall has spoken with a British accent, which is odd, because she has never been to England, and she doesn’t watch British television.
Hall, 35, is not putting us on, or as the British say, having us on. The longtime Nebraskan would like the accent to go away.
While it’s charming that she sounds like the Duchess of Sussex, she has more than six years of medical troubles behind her that have something to do with her accent.
Hall thinks her accent is the result of Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, which is a connective tissue disorder. She also has seronegative autoimmune encephalitis, which is an inflammation of the brain.
She is doing fairly well now. But she has had a rough time of it since 2011, when she woke up one day with a headache, at the age of 28.
She suffered through hundreds of seizures and countless visits to doctors who didn’t know what was wrong with her.
One doctor thought she’d had a conversion disorder. She was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Another person thought she was a drug addict trying to get pain medication.
Hall went through a period in which she hallucinated and wound up in a psych ward.
A psychiatrist thought she was faking her delusional episodes.
“If I could have, then I should have got an Oscar because I would have been a phenomenal actress. But that’s just not what happened,” she said.
Along the way, doctors put a shunt in her spine.
One day, she was close to committing suicide. She even wrote farewell notes to her children.
Hall eventually found doctors who helped her. She praises Dr. Colin Sanner, a former Grand Island neurologist, and Dr. Marco Gonzalez-Castellon at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Her quest for relief took her to the East Coast. She speaks highly of Dr. Arun Venkatesan at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and Dr. Rosario Trifiletti, a neurologist in New Jersey.
Her experience has taught her a few things.
“I want doctors to listen to their patients,” Hall said.
She doesn’t want to be critical of doctors because they know only what they’ve been taught, she said.
But she would like to see doctors “believe in other possibilities.”
“I know there are other people like me who will be committed to psychiatric hospitals because doctors don’t know better,” she said.
“We need doctors to believe us,” Hall said.
Hall is very interested in science. By concentrating on the science of her problems, “I was able to help my doctors help me get better,” she said.
Her husband, John, is a longtime Burlington Northern Santa Fe employee. They have been together for 18 years and married for 16.
They have four kids, including 11-year-old twins. The other kids are 13 and 17.
Hall’s illnesses have left her with memory loss. She doesn’t remember a week she spent with her family at Disney World. One of her sons received the trip from Make-a-Wish.
Hall, who has lived in Wood River since 2012, believes her seizures were caused by dystonia.
She and a friend are starting a support group for people with autoimmune encephalitis and PANDAS. The latter is a pediatric autoimmune neuropsychiatric disorder associated with streptococcal infection.
For a few years, Hall spent some of her time in a wheelchair. Her body was so weak she couldn’t walk very far.
She gained weight because of prednisone. She needed steroids to suppress her immune system. Her nutrition also suffered.
“I gained 110 pounds from the treatments. I’ve lost 70 pounds,” she said.
Hall has received six treatments of Retuxin, which “stopped the part of my immune system that was overreacting and attacking my brain,” she said.
Last Saturday, she figured out how to make her British accent go away.
Hall made the discovery while sitting in her garage, working on an art project for the Nebraska State Fair. She sat back in her chair, with her head propped up. “And I said something out loud and my voice was normal,” she said. But when she sat up again, “My voice slowly went back to British.”
She did a video talking about her discovery. To see it, go to https://youtu.be/VqSc8YyWtKY.
Hall is hopeful that her British accent will disappear permanently. Doctors “think that it’ll probably go away,” she said.