It sounds like a story torn from the pages of a comic book – A man is struck by lightening, or suffers a severe accident, only to find himself waking with new powers he had never previously possessed. Scientific researchers state that, while uncommon, this is a reality for a handful of people who have been diagnosed with Acquired Savant Syndrome.
Acquired Savant Syndrome is a condition in which an individual suffers some form of accident or injury such as dementia, a head injury, a severe blow to the head or another disturbance that impacts the workings of the brain, and in doing so acquires extraordinary capabilities.
This syndrome is extremely rare. In a study conducted by Darold Treffert in 2010, he stated that there are only 32 known individuals that meet the diagnosis. From obtaining the ability to masterfully play a musical instrument, to a profound comprehension of advanced mathematical concepts, these 8 people are the equivalent of a modern day super hero:
- Jon Sarkin
At the age of 35, Jon Sarkin, a chiropractor, began to experience ringing in his ears which was then diagnosed as tinnitus. He also found himself to be suffering from hyperacusis, an over-sensitivity to a specific range of sound. Doctors at the time advised him that this was being caused by overgrown blood vessels within his brain which would require surgery to correct. While under the knife there were complications, and Sarkin suffered from a stroke and a cerebellar hemorrhage. While this left him with skewed balance, splintered vision and deaf in one ear, he also awoke to find he now had an incredible artistic talent. His body of work has become so famous he has now been featured in Vanity Fair, and some of his paintings have been valued at over $10,000!
- Tommy McHugh
Widely accepted as an overly negative person personality wise, Tommy McHugh had a drug problem and was known to randomly punch a person that crossed him. One day he went to the hospital with an intense headache only to find out that an aneurysm had ruptured in his brain, bleeding on both sides, and he would require immediate surgery to live. Following the surgery, he found himself speaking in rhyme, and shortly there after he was compelled to take part in a number of artistic ventures including writing, painting, drawing and sculpting. He was also left with a new view on the world around him, taking on a Zen like love of everyone and everything he encountered. When asked for an explanation, doctors stated they believe that the bleeding caused some damage in the areas of his frontal lobe.
- Tony Circoria
Tony Circoria was leading an average life, as a well respected orthopedic surgeon, before a single moment changed his life. One day, as he was speaking on a payphone with his mother, Circoria was struck by lightening. Declared dead on the scene, he was brought back to life and made a full recovery. As the symptoms from his incident began to pass Circoria found he was left with something he had never felt before – a love for the piano. He craved listening to it, eventually buying his own only to find that he now possessed the ability to play like an accomplished pianist. While the doctors are unable to provide a clear explanation for his newly discovered musical abilities, Cicoria has embraced the new life he was given, performing regularly, and naming his first piece ‘The Lightning Sonata.”
- Alonzo Clemons
As a toddler, Alonzo Clemons suffered a severe brain injury, leaving him with a developmental disability. His diagnosis was extremely poor, not even able to tie his own shoelaces or feed himself. As a child, however, the adults in his life began to see his newly acquired ability – an incredible gift for sculpting, specifically for sculpting animals. With only the quickest of glimpses at a given animal, Clemons can produce a realistic and anatomically accurate three-dimensional rendering. These sculptures, including a series of life-size horses sculptures, have come to be widely sought after by art collectors and enthusiasts, with his works selling for as much as $45,000.
- Franco Magnani
Franco Magnani immigrated from Italy in the 60’s. The young man, in his 30’s, was struck down with a horrible fever, causing seizures and deliria. As he began to recover, Magnani found himself vividly recounting locations and memories from his childhood back in Italy. He hadn’t visited these locations in over 30 years, however his memories were so detailed that he was able to recreate these images with photo-like quality. Even more astonishing was the fact that Magnani had never touched a paint brush prior to suddenly being able to create these beautiful, detailed pieces of art. When asked about the medical reasoning behind Magnani’s newfound obsession with painting these childhood memories, doctors advised that the high temperature of his fever might have triggered a temporal lobe epilepsy.
- Ken Walters
In 1986, Ken Walters was bedridden for a year after breaking his back in a serious accident, unable to walk again. As he was just beginning to pick up the pieces of his ‘new’ life, the government kicked him out of his house. The stress of all of this happening in such a short period resulted in Walters suffering two separate heart attacks. The nearly 20 years that followed left him jobless, and in 2005 he suffered a stroke. While in the hospital he attempted to write a letter to one of his nurses, instead finding himself doodling upon the paper. This newly discovered artistic ability eventually caught the attention of the electronic arts industry, and he began drawing monsters for their games.
- Derek Amato
In 2002 a bad business investment left Derek Amato homeless. Sleeping in his car at rest stops for 3 months, he began to work a series of jobs including public relations, sales and baseball coaching while on the search for a career that gave him a sense of purpose. While attending a pool party with friends in October 2006, Amato jumped into the pool and struck his head on the concrete bottom. Rushed to the hospital, he was diagnosed with a serious concussion, 35% hearing loss and a significant loss of memory. As he recovered, Amato discovered one more side effect from the accident, an unbelievable musical ability! Now able to play eight different instruments that he had not been able to play previously, he is seen as a musical genius.
- Jason Padgett
Jason Padgett’s life changing moment came at the hands of two men rather than natural causes. In 2002 as he was leaving a restaurant following a date he was mugged. The men who assaulted him beat him badly enough that he suffered a severe concussion. As he began to recover Padgett advised he had begun to see strange things such as arrays of triangles exploding from a beam of light, or strange patterns behind moving objects. He began to draw the things that he was seeing, only to find that his drawings were detailed mathematical sets that show a repeating pattern called fractals. In their efforts to understand, neurologists completed a series of brain scans. These revealed that his brain was using other rarely used sections in an effort to compensate for those sections that had been damaged during the attack. These newly activated areas are believed to be the source of his mathematical genius.
While these 8 talented individuals may not have gained powers of invisibility or super human strength, their newly acquired abilities have changed the course of their lives.
As more people with acquired savant syndrome are discovered, scientists consider to study the details of their cases, working towards a better understanding of exactly what is happening. What they do know is that these people have been given a clear silver lining to otherwise tragic circumstances!