Many of you are familiar with Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen, mother of dragons, from the Game of Thrones series. While her tv counterpart is strong enough to walk through fire and survive, real-life Clarke was suffering from life-threatening brain aneurysms during filming.
Emilia Clarke and Her Battle for Life
Clarke recently penned an essay in the New Yorker that reveals that she, “nearly lost my mind and then my life. I’ve never told this story publicly, but now it’s time.”
She says that to help relieve the stress of being the subject of so much new-found attention, she started to work out with a trainer. She said that working out is “what television actors do.”
After getting dressed one day while at her gym, she started to feel a bad headache coming on. She was so tired she had trouble putting on her shoes. Things got worse as she started to exercise that day.
Her trainer had her go into a plank position, and she felt like an elastic band had suddenly started to squeeze her brain. She ignored the pain and tried to push through it, but had to take a break.
“My Brain was Damaged”
Emilia Clarke said, “Meanwhile, the pain – shooting, stabbing, constricting pain – was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.”
She said that she tried to will the pain and nausea away, and told herself that, “I will not be paralyzed,” moving her toes and fingers to prove to herself that this was true. She tried to recall things like her lines from Game of Thrones.
After hearing a woman call out asking if she was OK, she remembered that everything suddenly became blurry and noisy. She heard the sound of a siren and someone saying her pulse was weak – and then someone else called her parents.
Next thing she knew, she found herself in an emergency room at the Whittington Hospital in London, where she wasn’t even given anything for pain, as the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with her.
Her Co-Workers Didn’t Know
After Emilia Clarke was finally sent in for an MRI, her shocking diagnosis became known. She had suffered a life-threatening kind of stroke called a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which is caused by blood entering the space that surrounds the brain.
This is a condition that about a third of patients end up dying from immediately, but Clarke was able to continue on after having brain surgery completed that took over three hours.
Six weeks after this incident, Clarke returned to work, but asked her bosses not to tell anyone else about her condition. She wanted it to remain private, even from her co-workers. Clarke also didn’t want to be the subject of public discussion.
She said, “Season two would be my worst. I didn’t know what Daenerys was doing. If I am truly being honest, every minute of every day I thought I was going to die.”
The Second Aneurysm
Emilia Clarke was told that with this type of condition, it is highly likely that the patient will suffer a second one at some point, and she did – two years later.
She said, “So, with the second one, there was a little bit of my brain that actually died. If a part of your brain doesn’t get blood to it for a minute, it will just no longer work. It’s like you short circuit. So, I had that. And they didn’t know what it was.
They literally were looking at the brain and being like, ‘Well, we think it could be her concentration, it could be her peripheral vision. I always say it’s my taste in men that’s no longer there! That’s the part of my brain, yeah, my decent taste in men.”
Although she made light of her situation during the essay, she also made it clear that she was very worried about how her life would be affected if she was unable to recover.
Clarke said, “What if something has short-circuited in my brain and I can’t act anymore? I mean, literally it’s been my reason for living for a very long time!”
Road to Recovery
Emilia Clarke had a much harder time recovering from her second aneurysm than she did from her first one. She said, “The recovery was even more painful than it had been after the first surgery. I looked as though I had been through a war more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced.”
She continued, “You go on set and you play a badass and you walk through fire, and that became the thing that just saved me from considering my own mortality.”
Although the aneurysms first started in 2011, Emilia Clarke is just now opening up about her experience. She said, “After keeping quiet all these years, I’m telling you the truth in full. Please believe me: I know that I am hardly unique, hardly alone. Countless people have suffered far worse, and with nothing like the care I was so lucky to receive.”
Because of this, Clarke has started a charity that promotes visibility for brain injury survivors. “I’ve decided to throw myself into a charity I’ve helped develop in conjunction with partners in the UK and in the US. It is called SameYou, and it aims to provide treatment for people recovering from brain injuries and stroke.”
Ready for the Next Step
Now that Clarke is completely recovered, she says she looks forward to the future, saying, “There’s been so much life that I’ve lived in the ten years that I’ve been working on the show. So, you’re saying good-bye to so much more than just the character. I’m saying good-bye to my twenties!”
“There is something gratifying and beyond lucky about coming to the end of ‘Thrones’. I’m so happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next.”