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Rugby jock says stroke turned him gay

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(CBS) Strokes can have strange consequences. Some stroke victims wind up with different accents, others with different personalities. Chris Birch said he discovered he was gay when he woke up after a stroke.

The 26-year-old Welshman suffered a stroke after breaking his neck while attempting a back flip at a gym, The Daily Mail reported. His then-fiancée and family stayed by his side, but when he woke, something had changed.

"It sounds strange, but when I came round I immediately felt different," Birch told the paper. "I wasn't interested in women any more. I was definitely gay. I had never been attracted to a man before - I'd never even had any gay friends."

Before the stroke, Birch was a banker who loved playing rugby, watching sports, and drinking beer with his buds. After the stroke, he found he had little in common with his blokes, quit his job to train as a hairdresser, and started dating a man.

"I went back to my job in the bank and tried hard to fit back into things but it didn't seem right anymore," Birch told The Mirror last month. "Suddenly, I hated everything about my old life. I didn't get on with my friends, hated sport, and found my job boring."

He also focused more on his appearance, lost a lot of weight - and became more confident.

Birch's neurologist told him the changes in his personality could be from the stroke "opening up" a different part of his brain, according to the Daily Mail.

What do experts have to say - can a stroke really turn you gay?

Dr. Ira G. Rashbaum, professor of rehabilitation medicine and chief of stroke rehab at NYU Langone Medical Center, wouldn't speculate on this specific case since he wasn't involved in Birch's care, but he told CBS News that it's quite common to see personality changes in patients following a stroke.

Rashbaum said some recovering stroke patients might experience anxiety, depression, or difficulties paying attention. In some cases if a stroke affects the brain's frontal lobe - which controls inhibition - a previously quiet person might become angrier, suddenly telling others off.

But a full-blown personality change?

"This is a more rare circumstance, certainly not a common thing" he told CBS News. He added that profound personality changes usually aren't permanent following rehabilitation with a team that might include psychologists and social workers.

Joe Korner, director of communications for The Stroke Association in the U.K., told CBS News in an email that he's never personally heard of a stroke changing someone's sexuality, but he doesn't doubt the stroke had some impact on Birch's life.

"Strokes are traumatic, life-changing experiences, which can make you reassess life and your feelings so perhaps that's the reason behind it," Korner said. "Whether or not the stroke turned Chris gay, or whether he was gay anyway but unaware of it, his experience seems to be a positive one, which is great."

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