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Serene Branson: migraine, not stroke, caused on-air flub

CBS 2 reporter Serene Branson. (CBS)
serene branson, 4x3
Serene Branson's on-air speaking problem was caused not by stroke but a migraine, doctors said.

(CBS/AP) It was a migraine. That's what doctors say triggered TV reporter Serene Branson's unsettling on-air speaking gaffe while covering the Grammys last Sunday.

The TV reporter said she was terrified when it happened and knew right away something was wrong.

"Well, a very heavy burtation tonight," she said, before falling into complete gibberish.

Some viewers who saw the episode thought the KCBS-TV reporter had suffered a stroke. But doctors at the University of California, Los Angeles where she went to get a brain scan and blood work done ruled it out.

Doctors said she suffered a type of migraine that can mimic symptoms of a stroke. About 20 to 30 percent experience sensations before or during a migraine attack.

"A migraine is not just a headache. It's a complicated brain event," said UCLA neurologist Dr. Andrew Charles, who examined Branson. The most common sensations associated with migraines include seeing flashes of light or zigzag patterns. In Branson's case, she felt numbness on the right side of her face that affected her speech, Charles said.

Branson told the station in an interview Thursday that she "started to get a really bad headache" but assumed she was just tired.

"At around 10 o'clock that night I was sitting in the live truck with my field producer and the photographer and I was starting to look at some of my notes," she said. "I started to think, the words on the page are blurry and I could notice that my thoughts were not forming the way they normally do."

"As soon as I opened my mouth I knew something was wrong," Branson said. "I was having trouble remembering the word for Grammy. I knew what I wanted to say but I didn't have the words to say it."

According to Charles, Branson told doctors she's had migraines since a child, but never suffered an episode like this before.