"I think of it as a growing thing that made me stronger," Erceg said

By Alex Heigl
May 15, 2015 02:25 PM

Leigh Erceg majored in physical education in college. She loved NASCAR and riding ATVs and worked on a ranch in a remote area of northwest Colorado.

Today, she doesn’t care about any of those things. She’s now an avid artist, poet and mathematician. Erceg, 47, has synesthesia – a neurological phenomenon in which patients experience sensory information in atypical ways, such as “hearing” colors and “seeing” sounds.

The cause of this dramatic change in her life is the catastrophic brain and spine injuries Erceg suffered a few years ago after a fall down a ravine. Since recovering from her traumatic accident, she’s become 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.

Doctors have also diagnosed Erceg with acquired savant syndrome, a condition that causes enhanced cognitive ability in art or math.

“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 at the University of Miami who has been studying Erceg, told ABC News.

“I’m one of those people who’s gotten lucky,” Erceg told Psychology Today in 2014. “I think of it as a growing thing that made me stronger.”

Erceg’s story is similar to that of Patrick Fagerburg, a Texas attorney who turned to painting following a traumatic head injury in 2011, and Tony Cicoria, who developed an intense interest in piano playing and composition after being struck by lightning in 1994. (Cicoria was profiled in Oliver Sacks‘ 2007 book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain).

Erceg may not remember her life before the accident, but she has found deep meaning in her newfound talents.

“At one point, all theoretical designs come in occupancy of a triangle, of a linear line, of circulations,” she said, describing one of the many drawings that fill her home.

“Leigh was a total extrovert. She was very confident,” her childhood friend Amber Anastasio told the news outlet, “I just know that she is different now. It’s not a bad different. It’s just different. It’s who she is now.”