In a piece written for The New Yorker, Emilia Clarke has revealed that she suffered from two life-threatening brain aneurysms during the filming of Game Of Thrones.
Not long after the first season of GoT wrapped, and Clarke had made her debut as the yet-to-be-powerful Daenerys Targaryen, Emilia says that one day she felt a blinding headache come on, before suddenly becoming incredibly unwell.
On the morning of February 11, 2011, I was getting dressed in the locker room of a gym in Crouch End, North London, when I started to feel a bad headache coming on. I was so fatigued that I could barely put on my sneakers.
I told my trainer I had to take a break. 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.
During what would turn out to be a subarachnoid hemorrhage (or SAH), which is a life-threatening type of stroke, Emilia said that she wiggled her fingers and toes, and going over her Game Of Thrones lines to keep her memory alive.
Emilia writes that once she came to in the hospital, she learned that a third of people who experience a SAH doesn’t make it. And of the two-thirds that do, immediate surgery is needed to survive, and even then, there are no guarantees that it’ll make things better.
She goes on to reveal that at 24-years-old, she had her first brain surgery to block the aneurysm. Afterwards, she couldn’t remember her name and was suffering from a condition called ‘aphasia’, which sent her into a “blind panic.”
Even as I was muttering nonsense, my mum did me the great kindness of ignoring it and trying to convince me that I was perfectly lucid. But I knew I was faltering. In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug. I asked the medical staff to let me die. My job—my entire dream of what my life would be—centered on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost.
Two years later in 2013, Emilia says that she went for a brain scan during a stint in NYC for the production of Holly Golightly and found that she needed immediate surgery to deal with a growth on the other side of her brain that had “doubled in size.”
She emerged a month later with titanium replacing parts of her skull and a scar that stretched from her scalp to her ear.
These days, you can’t see the scar that curves from my scalp to my ear, but I didn’t know at first that it wouldn’t be visible. And there was, above all, the constant worry about cognitive or sensory losses. Would it be concentration? Memory? Peripheral vision? Now I tell people that what it robbed me of is good taste in men. But, of course, none of this seemed remotely funny at the time.
Since her experiences with staring death in the face and flipping it off, twice, Emilia Clarke has helped to develop a foundation called SameYou – to give support and funds to young people surviving from brain injury and strokes, much like herself. She’s now “at a hundred per cent“, and has “healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes.”