Emilia Clarke survived two brain aneurysms during Game Of Thrones: 'I couldn't recall my name'
In a New Yorker piece, the 32-year-old said she underwent life-saving brain surgeries over the last eight years to correct two different aneurysm growths
'Game of Thrones' star Emilia Clarke revealed on Thursday that she underwent two life-saving brain surgeries over the last eight years to correct two different aneurysm growths. The actress said that the surgeries were difficult and not always successful, and neither was her recovery.
The 32-year-old further revealed that there was a point during her recovery when she wanted to “pull the plug” when she was unable to remember her name.
Clarke shared her story through an essay for The New Yorker, revealing that her health problems started in February 2011, soon after wrapping filming on the HBO show’s first season.
Clarke was working out with her trainer in London when she sensed a headache forming. “My trainer had me get into the plank position, and I immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain,” she wrote. “I tried to ignore the pain and push through it, but I just couldn’t. 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.”
Clarke wrote about how the only things she remembered were a woman asking if she was okay, and then sirens as an ambulance came to rush her to the hospital. “The diagnosis was quick and ominous: a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke, caused by bleeding into the space surrounding the brain,” she said.
“I’d had an aneurysm, an arterial rupture. As I later learned, about a third of SAH patients die immediately or soon thereafter. For the patients who do survive, urgent treatment is required to seal off the aneurysm, as there is a very high risk of a second, often fatal bleed. If I was to live and avoid terrible deficits, I would have to have urgent surgery. And, even then, there were no guarantees.”
As per the actress, the three-hour-long surgery was “minimally invasive,” and did not require opening up her skull. However, her pain was quite "unbearable" when she woke up, and she went on to spend four days in the intensive care unit before spending another week and a half recovering, reported People.
The 'Me Before You' star said that two weeks after her surgery was an important marker to check her progress, but it did not go well, and she was unable to remember her name. “I was suffering from a condition called aphasia, a consequence of the trauma my brain had suffered,” she said.
“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. I was sent back to the I.C.U. and, after about a week, the aphasia passed. I was able to speak.”
She was able to leave the hospital and continue her work but she was warned about the presence of a smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain, but doctors said it could “pop” or it may also stay dormant. At the time, Clarke resumed promoting the hit HBO series, but “was often so woozy, so weak, that I thought I was going to die.”
At times, she even took morphine between interviews to manage the pain. “If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die,” she admitted about filming the second season of the show. And in 2013, during one of Clarke’s regular brain scans, doctors found that her second aneurysm had doubled in size.
It required a second, but “easier” operation, but nothing quite went as planned. “When they woke me, I was screaming in pain. The procedure had failed,” she wrote. “I had a massive bleed and the doctors made it plain that my chances of surviving were precarious if they didn’t operate again."
"This time they needed to access my brain in an old-fashioned way — through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately.” According to the star, this recovery “was even more painful than it had been after the first surgery.”
“I spent a month in the hospital again and, at certain points, I lost all hope,” she said. “I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. There was terrible anxiety, panic attacks … I felt like a shell of myself. So much so that I now have a hard time remembering those dark days in much detail. My mind has blocked them out. But I do remember being convinced that I wasn’t going to live.”
Nonetheless, her health has steadily improved since then. “In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes,” she said. “I am now at a hundred per cent.”
Clarke has since created a charity, SameYou, to raise money for people recovering from brain injuries and strokes. She decided to share her story ahead of the premiere of 'Game of Thrones’ final season next month after years of anxiety that her health struggles would come out without her consent in tabloids.
“There is something gratifying, and beyond lucky, about coming to the end of Thrones,” she said. “I’m so happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next.”