Emilia Clarke suffered two burst brain aneurysms in between seasons of ‘GoT’

Emilia Clarke, 32, has always come across as friendly and sweet. She’s mesmerizing as badass Daenerys on Game of Thrones but I also enjoyed her performance as a cutesy goof in Me Before You, and she was similarly great in Solo: A Star Wars Story, although the movie was a bit lacking. She’s an excellent actress who always comes across as gracious. Early in her career she was secretly dealing with a horrific medical condition. Emilia has revealed that she suffered a burst brain aneurysm right after filming for the first season of Game of Thrones wrapped. She has published an essay in The New Yorker describing what happened to her.

In 2011, at the age of 24, she had successful brain surgery through her groin and recovered. She suffered complications from a second surgery in 2013, for another aneurysm which burst on the operating table. Doctors had to go in through her skull that time and repair it with titanium. Her prognosis was bleak and she felt hopeless. Luckily she had SAG insurance for her second surgery (in the US, her first was in London) and time off from filming. She recovered and only one outlet, The National Enquirer, reported it. She denied that story but as Game of Thrones is about to air their eighth and final season she wanted to disclose it. I came away from this so impressed with her. Even as she’s describing awful conditions where she could have died, she’s careful to say her situation isn’t any worse than someone else’s. She’s also an excellent writer.

The recovery from her first brain surgery in 2011 was tough
That first surgery was what is known as “minimally invasive,” meaning that they did not open up my skull. Rather, using a technique called endovascular coiling, the surgeon introduced a wire into one of the femoral arteries, in the groin; the wire made its way north, around the heart, and to the brain, where they sealed off the aneurysm.

The operation lasted three hours. When I woke, the pain was unbearable. I had no idea where I was. My field of vision was constricted. There was a tube down my throat and I was parched and nauseated. They moved me out of the I.C.U. after four days and told me that the great hurdle was to make it to the two-week mark. If I made it that long with minimal complications, my chances of a good recovery were high.

She couldn’t remember her name
One night, after I’d passed that crucial mark, a nurse woke me and, as part of a series of cognitive exercises, she said, “What’s your name?” 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.

I was suffering from a condition called aphasia, a consequence of the trauma my brain had suffered. 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.

I was sent back to the I.C.U. and, after about a week, the aphasia passed. I was able to speak. I knew my name—all five bits. But I was also aware that there were people in the beds around me who didn’t make it out of the I.C.U. I was continually reminded of just how fortunate I was. One month after being admitted, I left the hospital, longing for a bath and fresh air. I had press interviews to do and, in a matter of weeks, I was scheduled to be back on the set of “Game of Thrones.”

Doctors found a second aneurysm
I went back to my life, but, while I was in the hospital, I was told that I had a smaller aneurysm on the other side of my brain, and it could “pop” at any time. The doctors said, though, that it was small and it was possible it would remain dormant and harmless indefinitely. We would just keep a careful watch.

The second brain surgery in 2013 had complications
While I was still in New York for the play, with five days left on my sag insurance, I went in for a brain scan—something I now had to do regularly. The growth on the other side of my brain had doubled in size, and the doctor said we should “take care of it.” I was promised a relatively simple operation, easier than last time. Not long after, I found myself in a fancy-pants private room at a Manhattan hospital. My parents were there. “See you in two hours,” my mum said, and off I went for surgery, another trip up the femoral artery to my brain. No problem.

Except there was. When they woke me, I was screaming in pain. The procedure had failed. 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 the old-fashioned way—through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately.

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. I emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of my head. Bits of my skull had been replaced by titanium. 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.

I spent a month in the hospital again and, at certain points, I lost all hope. I couldn’t look anyone in the eye. There was terrible anxiety, panic attacks. I was raised never to say, “It’s not fair”; I was taught to remember that there is always someone who is worse off than you. But, going through this experience for the second time, all hope receded. 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. And, what’s more, I was sure that the news of my illness would get out. And it did—for a fleeting moment. Six weeks after the surgery, the National Enquirer ran a short story. A reporter asked me about it and I denied it.

But now, 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.

[From The New Yorker]

I remember when Sharon Stone revealed that she’d suffered a stroke in 2001 and had to take two years just to relearn how to speak and walk. Everyone’s brain injury is different, but I get the impression that Emilia’s recovery was tougher than she explained. That’s just her style though, she realizes she’s lucky to be alive and is grateful for that and for her treatment. I love the joke she cracked about her surgery robbing her of her taste in men! I want to see great things for her after Game of Thrones, and I’m sure we will.

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