A fall can change your brain… have you heard of “synesthesia” ?
Colorado rancher, 49, becomes accidental genius in art, poetry and mathematics after suffering traumatic brain injury in 2009 fall
Leigh Erceg, 47, suffered traumatic brain injury in fall at her ranch in 2009
Injury resulted in rare medical condition called ‘acquired savant syndrome’
Condition causes enhanced cognitive ability in areas such as art and math
Ms Erceg has consequently become gifted artist, poet and mathematician
She also suffers from ‘synesthesia’ – she ‘sees’ sounds and ‘hears’ colors
Described as ‘only woman in world’ to have both neurological conditions
Fall occurred at Colorado ranch while Ms Erceg was feeding her chickens
By SOPHIE JANE EVANS
She cannot remember anything about her life before 2009, when she had a bad fall at her ranch.
But now, Leigh Erceg – who suffered a traumatic brain injury in the fall – is an ‘accidental genius’.
The 47-year-old has become a gifted artist, poet and mathematician – who can ‘see’ sounds and even ‘hear’ colors when she listens to music – after her injury resulted in a rare medical condition.
The condition, dubbed ‘acquired savant syndrome’, causes greatly enhanced cognitive ability in areas like art and math – usually to such an extent that it is far in excess of what is deemed ‘normal’.
Genius: Leigh Erceg (left) has become a gifted artist, poet and mathematician after she suffered a traumatic brain injury during a fall at a Colorado ranch in 2009. Right, a selection of Ms Erceg’s impressive artworks
In Ms Erceg’s case, she was diagnosed with the syndrome following a series of scientific studies and brain scans that were carried out after her fall at the Colorado ranch, ABC’s Nightline reported.
She has also been diagnosed with ‘synesthesia’, a neurological condition in which two or more of the five senses, which are normally experienced separately, are involuntarily joined together in the brain.
This particular condition, which reportedly affects a number of celebrities including singers Pharrell Williams and Lady Gaga, causes Ms Erceg to ‘see’ sounds and ‘hear’ colors on a daily basis.
‘Leigh is the only woman in the world who has acquired savant syndrome and synesthesia following brain injury that I know of,’ Dr Brit Brogaard, a neuroscientist in Miami, told the ABC program.
Ms Erceg was left with a catastrophic brain injury – and no memories of her life – after she fell into a ravine at the ranch she was managing in Maybell, Moffat County, in 2009 while feeding chickens.
She was told she may never walk again – and would likely never be able to retrieve her memories.
Artwork: The 47-year-old can also ‘see’ sounds and ‘hear’ colors after her brain injury caused her to develop both a rare medical condition called ‘acquired savant syndrome’ and the neurological condition ‘synesthesia’
Creative: ‘Leigh is the only woman in the world who has acquired savant syndrome and synesthesia following brain injury that I know of,’ said Dr Brit Brogaard. Left, one of Ms Erceg’s poems, and right, the talented artist
‘I don’t know what type of fall it was but it must have been pretty dramatic… I just remember them saying ‘Leigh, keep breathing,’ said Ms Erceg, who also suffered severe spinal injuries in the fall.
Despite undergoing extensive life-saving treatment, the former athlete, who has a degree in physical education, still has no memories of her previous life – and does not even recognize her own mother.
She is also unable to feel emotion, although she has learned to smile in response to social cues. She is reportedly reliant on her best friend, Amber Anastasio, to help her understand her life.
Ms Erceg’s home is filled with mathematical equations, poems and incredible pieces of art. For each artwork, she listens to music and draws as ‘all the dimensions of the house’ go through her mind.
Unique: Ms Erceg’s home is filled with math equations, poems and incredible pieces of art (left and right). For each artwork, she listens to music and draws as ‘all the dimensions of the house’ run through her mind
More creations: ‘Most people, if you ask them to draw a house or a car, they will start with the outline of the car or house,’ Dr Brogaard told Nightline, explaining how Ms Erceg’ starts with the details’ then adds to them
‘Most people, if you ask them to draw a house or a car, they will start with the outline of the car or house, and they will fill in the windows and door, and the wheels,’ Dr Brogaard told Nightline.
‘When you ask Leigh to draw something, she will start with the details. She will start with the windows or the wheels, and fill out that way. She is attending to details before she is attending to the whole.’
Ms Erceg lives in Steamboat Springs in Routt County. According to her Facebook page, she currently runs brain support groups at Hayden Public Library in East Jefferson Avenue.
She apparently had no interest at all in art or math prior to her fall.
Ms Erceg apparently had no interest at all in art or math prior to her fall in 2009. Above, another of her pieces