Survivor, Savant, and Synesthete

2015-0529 Leigh Erceg

Leigh Erceg used to be a rancher who enjoyed ATVs and NASCAR, but now she is an artist, poet, and mathematician. Although I cannot think of another female artist, poet, and mathematician who used to be a rancher, that is not why she is referred to as a one-of-a- kind accidental genius.

The dramatic change in her life is the result of catastrophic brain and spine injuries Erceg suffered after falling into a ravine. When she woke in the hospital, she could recall the rugged, outgoing cowgirl she had been. However, after subsequent seizures Erceg lost her memories. Erceg is now a different person – she has no memory of her old life and has lost her ability to feel emotion, a condition doctors refer to as “flat” or “blunted” affect.

According to ABC News, what makes her so special is Erceg is the only woman in the world who doctors diagnosed as having acquired savant syndrome and synesthesia following brain injury.  Wikipedia tells us, “savant syndrome is a condition in which a person demonstrates profound and prodigious capacities or abilities far in excess of what would be considered normal.” Neuroscience for Kids reveals, “synesthesia is a condition in which one sense (for example, hearing) is simultaneously perceived as if by one or more additional senses such as sight. A synesthete (a person with synesthesia) might see the word ‘plane as pale green or the number ‘4 as orange. There are also synesthetes who hear sounds in response to smell, who smell in response to touch, or who feel something in response to sight. Just about any combination of the senses is possible. Another form of synesthesia joins objects such as letters, shapes, numbers or people’s names with a sensory perception such as smell, color or flavor.”

Click here to read the article on Psychology Today.

To read the article on People Magazine, click here.


Click here to read another Beyond Adversity post.

Thanks to Leigh Erceg for sharing her story; Maureen Seaberg and Alex Heigl for writing the articles from which I quoted; ABC NewsPsychology Today, and People Magazine for committing their resources to the articles I referenced; Google for helping me find the articles; and all the other people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to used the picture, video, and text in this post.


  1. I am encouraged by the fact that the injury to her brain created new and unusual super talents. I am aware that most brain injuries do not produce these results. I do hope one day studies of these “special cases” lead to discoveries that aid the disabled population

    1. I have little doubt researchers and practitioners will eventually understand the brain and have the ability to change features of the brain like we select the features of a house or car.

  2. Technically, I think the ‘new’ me might be better, creatively. My near-death set of events facilitated my ability to recall things from long before, despite the fact that my short-term memory was profoundly damaged.

    1. Matt, that is amazing. I cannot recall what it is like to have a memory. Most of my long-term and short-term memory is gone. I get by alright, but the details of the past are hidden in a place I cannot find. Every once in a while, a memory is triggered by an event so I know my memories are not lost forever — I just cannot find them yet. The old me had a better memory and walked without looking drunk, but I am much happier with the new me.

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