After years keeping her story to herself, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke has revealed that she suffered two “life-threatening” brain aneurysms.
In 2011, Clarke underwent brain surgery after she collapsed while exercising and was rushed to hospital with “shooting, stabbing, constricting pain” in her head, she recalled in a harrowing and touching personal account in The New Yorker.
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She had been diagnosed with a subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH), from which a third of sufferers die immediately or soon after. Although she survived, she woke from the surgery unable to remember her name and experiencing a condition called aphasia, which left her “muttering nonsense” and unable to form sentences.
“In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug,” Clarke wrote. “I asked the medical staff to let me die. My job – my entire dream of what my life would be – centred on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost.”
Fortunately, after a week the aphasia passed and just weeks later she returned to filming her role as Daenerys Targaryan on Thrones. However, she was far from fully recovered. Saying she was “so woozy, so weak” that she thought she was going to die, Clarke also revealed she “sipped on morphine” between press interviews to keep the pain at bay.
Then in 2013, she suffered a second aneurysm on the other side of her brain, which led to more intrusive surgery that required opening up her skull. “When they woke me, I was screaming in pain,” Clarke recalled.
“I emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of my head. Bits of my skull had been replaced by titanium […] I looked as though I had been through a war more gruesome than any Daenerys experienced.”
After suffering many panic attacks and “terrible anxiety”, Clarke says she is finally “at a hundred per cent”. And she has now developed SameYou, a charity that supports people recovering from brain injuries and strokes.
“The degree to which people can adapt and face the future after neurological trauma is dependent on the quality and provision of rehabilitation care,” she says. “While I was recovering, I saw that access to integrated mental and physical health recovery programmes is limited and not available to all.
“I want to break the silence on brain injury.”
You can find out more about Clarke’s story and ways to contribute to SameYou here.