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

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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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32 Responses to “Emilia Clarke suffered two burst brain aneurysms in between seasons of ‘GoT’”

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  1. Lee says:

    I read the whole essay on The New Yorker and she sounds so honest and relatable. I can only imagine how scared she was but she found the way to push through, she was really brave.

    • Nikki says:

      I also read the entire New Yorker article, and this from someone who often won’t watch a 50 second video. I was horrified to read what she’d been through, and I also thought she sounded super nice and relatable. I wish her a healthy, happy long life.

  2. Becks1 says:

    that is terrifying. I cant imagine what she went through. I’m impressed that it was kept relatively quiet (as these things go) and that she was able to make a full recovery.

  3. Lucy says:

    I read this yesterday and it made me tear up. She was my age. And to think she’s always so bubbly and smiley…can’t begin to imagine what that must have been like. I’m glad she’s still among us.

  4. Valiantly Varnished says:

    I read the piece yesterday and it just drove home even further that we have no idea what people are going through in their lives, famous or not. And that fame and acclaim doesn’t protect from the realities of what it is to be human. I’m glad she is doing better.

    • Dee says:

      So important and useful to TALK ABOUT IT!! Those red carpet pictures do nothing to further our understanding of the world; knowing the story behind them can only make everyone stronger, wiser, more sympathetic, and most importantly reminded that we share problems with everyone on earth.
      This is an amazing young woman.

  5. Darla says:

    Yes, I read it yesterday too, an amazing piece and I was very touched.

  6. TheOriginalMia says:

    Wow. Never would have known it to look at her. Not sold on her acting abilities, but she does seem sweet. Glad she’s doing much better and is telling her story.

  7. ReginaGeorge says:

    Love Emilia and her bubbly personality and positive outlook. As an actress she’s been a bit “meh” to me in things other than GoT, but I find her to be so adorable and genuine.
    Aneurysms, embolisms and all those blood clot related issues freak me out. I know people who randomly lost family and friends of all ages over those silent killers. A person thinks they are healthy and something like this can just creep up. It’s a big fear of mine. If I had the money, I’d probably have an MRI or whatever performed on myself on an annual basis to check for them, that’s how paranoid I am about them. Someone I know lost her mom to one when she was only 12. Came home from school to find her mom. So sad.

    • Darla says:

      I lost my dad to an aneurysm in 1999. He was 59. I still miss him and feel he was very cheated because it was only one month before his first grandchild was born. I’m not paranoid about them though. I was the first couple of years, but at this point, I just feel, if it has to happen, just let it happen bam, no lingering in a vegetative state. something has to get you. I’ve really chilled out about death and health fears as I’ve aged. It is a wonderful feeling.

  8. Lightpurple says:

    I love her. How terrifying this ordeal must have been for her and still must be. When our bodies betray us, we never fully recover from it, there is always fear. But her attitude, her grace, her concern for others who must face worse, how she put that in perspective, all so very admirable. Best wishes for her continued good health.

  9. Liz says:

    Wow. Just wow.

  10. Sayrah says:

    I just finished reading the article. My goodness. She’s been through a lot. Reading about losing her dad in 2016 who held her hand to the end was so touching.

  11. Veronica S. says:

    I read this the other day and was just flabbergasted. She’s so very young to have those kind of complications – thank God, she had doctors with a keen eye to her proper care. (It makes me wonder if she potentially has some sort of clotting disorder like my one coworker had, actually.) Remarkable how well she managed to keep this under wraps, though. I imagine the silver lining is that it occurred between shootings so she could have time to reconcile herself with what happened and learn to articulate it meaningfully. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a medical event occur while the entire world is watching.

  12. Cay says:

    Can I ship Emilia Clarke and Josh O’Connor?

  13. Naddie says:

    And no one can tell, as it’s been stated above. I’m very happy she’s ok, and I’ll pray for her to keep like that. I had and have patients who didn’t recover completely from aphasia, and it can easiliy lead to a depression. I also date my MRI, because it’s a reminder of how much I’m lucky and blessed since I was convinced I had an aneurysm in my brain.

    • Lorina says:

      No one can tell. That’s a good point.
      I think we often forget that people don’t have to look sick to be sick. As others have said above, you never know what goes on in peoples lives.
      If we could find it in our hearts to treat people more kindly, knowing that… That would make the world a better place, I think.
      (Even doctors told me ”But you don’t look sick!” when I was on the brink of death. Oh well.)
      I’m grateful to her for telling her story, and the way she told it.

  14. 90sgirl says:

    Much respect to her strength. So glad she survived.
    I have lost two family members to aneurysms.
    They are so scary and unpredictable.

    I love her in the film Me before You. She is such a lovely actress.

  15. Sam says:

    Every actor takes themselves so seriously. She comes off just grateful and warm. Wish her the best.

    “What it robbed me of is good taste in men.” Girl, is Seth Macfarlane that bad?

  16. Originaltessa says:

    I’m a big fan of the show and I noticed a stark change in her between season one and two. I could never put my finger on what it was, she just seemed tired and a bit sick. My naive self thought she was partying too much with her costars and just overextending herself. THIS makes so much more sense. Poor thing was in agony and had spent a month laid up in a hospital after brain surgery. Brave girl, and beyond professional. I feel bad for thinking she was a party girl.

  17. Amelie says:

    I just read her essay and her situation sounded pretty dire. Aneurysms are no joke and she is so lucky she managed to survive two of them and come out of the surgeries. I know she made a point to say her situation was not worse than anyone else’s but I don’t know many people who have had to deal with such life threatening conditions. I know some of course (mostly those who survived cancer including a friend who had a benign brain tumor removed). Minimizing it probably helps her deal with the fact she was able to survive when most people would not. I’m such a fan of her, she is tough and so glad she spoke up about it.

  18. SM says:

    This sounds horrible. My biggest fear is having something happen to my brain, like being sane but being unable to speak. My dad had a severe dementia. It was so scary to see how a person who always was the guiding light for you looses all sense of reality. Only when he passed I realized how scary it was for him rather than me, understanding that you can’t get a grip on your view of the world, to express your self properly, etc.
    I hope her health scares are behind her. She seems like a very laid back and happy with life person. It is amazing all she went through did not crash her spirit. And how can you not laugh out loud at this: Now I tell people that what it robbed me of is good taste in men”. She is perfect. I hope her girlfriends have her back with men if she actually has a bad picker.

  19. Poppy says:

    She’s a sweety, I’m glad she’s doing great I wish her success and health

  20. Bluedreams says:

    What happened to her is horrific. My father suddenly died from a brain aneurysm when he was relatively young, I can only imagine when she went through. Reading this makes a lot of sense to me since I always thought her appearance changed straight after Season 1 of GoT in a way other than just aging. Clearly she went through hell and back. Much respect to her for what she went through

  21. Lou says:

    She’s amazing. So much strength. <3

  22. arr says:

    Although I think Emilia comes across as a lovely person I’ve never been sold on her as an actress; however, this information really makes me appreciate everything she was able to do in the first few seasons of Game of Thrones and really shows that we never know what is really going on in someone else’s life. To go through that-and at such a young age-must have been terrifying. Poor girl. I’m glad that she has been able to recover.

  23. Sankay says:

    Her character on GoT has had to speak in another language I’ve always thought that has affected her acting.

  24. Alyse says:

    The full interview is such an emotional read. SO happy she made it through, and sounds like she had a strong support system too.

  25. Reeta Skeeter says:

    I’ve always loved Emilia – she is such a warm, joyful presence. It’s so important for us to understand what people are struggling with. There is NO perfect in life. Thank you for your honesty Emilia and I hope you continue to do well :)

  26. Angie says:

    My nephew went through something similar and he is now has a lot of permanent impairments. We love him so much but I so wish he had never had his brain injuries. He suffers from apraxia as well as significant limitations in mobility and cognitive impairment. What happened to her is so hard. I remember seeing my nephew weeping so much in pain. She is fortunate that she recovered. It makes me happy for her but also a little sad for my nephew until i think about what an awesome little guy he is!