Emilia Clarke Just Revealed Life-Threatening Battle With Brain Aneurysms
By Emily Lee
March 21, 2019
This is so scary. In a personal essay for The New Yorker, Emilia Clarke revealed she suffered two life-threatening brain aneurysms while filming Game of Thrones. The actress, who plays Daenerys Targaryen on the hit HBO fantasy series, spoke about her health battle in the hopes of helping others who also suffer from brain injuries. Just all her dreams were coming true, Clarke writes that she "nearly lost my mind and then my life. I’ve never told this story publicly, but now it’s time."
Clarke first realized something was terribly wrong during a workout in February 2011, shortly after she wrapped filming the first season of Thrones. “My trainer had me get into the plank position and I immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain,” she wrote. “Somehow, almost crawling, I made it to the locker room. I reached the toilet, sank to my knees and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain —shooting, stabbing, constricting pain — was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening — my brain was damaged.”
After being rushed to the hospital, Clarke was ultimately diagnosed with a subarachnoid hemorrhage. She describes this condition as “a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain.” She underwent a “minimally invasive” surgery called “endovascular coiling." Surgeons had to seal off the aneurysm using a wire that was inserted into one of her femoral arteries in her groin.
“When I woke, the pain was unbearable. I had no idea where I was. My field of vision was constricted," Clarke recalled. After the surgery, she also suffered from aphasia, which is the loss of ability to understand or express speech. “My full name is Emilia Isobel Euphemia Rose Clarke, but now I couldn’t remember it. Instead, nonsense words tumbled out of my mouth and I went into a blind panic. I’d never experienced fear like that — a sense of doom closing in. I could see my life ahead, and it wasn’t worth living. I am an actor; I need to remember my lines. Now I couldn’t recall my name.”
Clarke candidly spoke about that sense of doom she felt, revealing she even asked her doctors to let her die if the aphasia did not pass. A week after her surgery, the aphasia did pass and she was released from the hospital a month later. Following her first aneurysm, Clarke returned to the Game of Thrones set for filming. “Season 2 would be my worst. I didn’t know what [my character] Daenerys was doing. If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die," she said.
Two years later, doctors found a second aneurysm during a routine brain scan in New York City. While her doctors attempted to fix it with the same non-invasive procedure they performed the first time, it ultimately did not work. Clarke then underwent a procedure where surgeons had to go directly through her skull. “The recovery was even more painful than it had been after the first surgery,” Clarke said. “I looked as though I had been through a war more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced.”
Thankfully, though, Clarke has since “healed beyond [her] most unreasonable hopes.” She's partnering with a charity called SameYou, which aims to help those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries. “I’m so happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next," Clarke wrote.
So are we.