“Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke revealed on Thursday that she suffered from two life-threatening brain aneurysms that have prompted her to launch SameYou, a charity to advocate for stroke and brain-injury patients.
The British actress, 32, has since healed beyond her “most unreasonable hopes” and is “now at a hundred per cent,” she wrote Thursday in a personal essay for the New Yorker.
The bubbly star is best known for her role as the dragon-commanding Daenerys Targaryen in the hit HBO fantasy-drama that launched her career and kicks off its final season next month. In her essay, she wrote that “there is something gratifying, and beyond lucky, about coming to the end of ‘Thrones.’”
The Emmy Award nominee, who has since starred in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” “Me Before You” and “Terminator: Genisys,” contextualized her health struggle with filming the series. Soon after completing Season 1 in 2011 she became “violently, voluminously ill” and felt “shooting, stabbing, constricting pain” in her head that landed her in an English 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. I’d had an aneurysm, an arterial rupture,” Clarke wrote, saying that about a third of SAH patients die immediately or soon thereafter.
Not long after, at age 24, she underwent a minimally invasive procedure — endovascular coiling — to seal off the aneurysm.
She then suffered from aphasia and, at her “worst moments,” she wanted to pull the plug at the hospital and have the medical staff let her die. Doctors also told her that she had a smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain, and it could “pop” at any time. She kept her condition quiet, but filled in her “Thrones” bosses and began filming the next season of the globe-trotting series in Croatia.
“Season 2 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,” Clarke wrote.
By 2013, around the time of Clarke’s short-lived Broadway run in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” a brain scan indicated that her small aneurysm had doubled in size. She had another minimally invasive procedure, but it failed, and resulted in a surgery that required opening her skull and “an even more painful” recovery.
“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,” she said, adding to concerns about her cognitive or sensory losses.
She spent another month in a Manhattan hospital, which she described as “dark days” that her mind has blocked out. She said she “lost all hope,” had terrible anxiety and panic attacks and was convinced that she “wasn’t going to live.”
With the launch of her charity — and maybe because she previously denied her struggle in a short National Enquirer story — the actress was emboldened to share her story.
“I know from personal experience that the impact of brain injury is shattering,” Clarke said in a statement from SameYou. “Recovery is long-term, and rehabilitation can be difficult to access. Brain injury can be an invisible illness, and the subject is often taboo. We must help young adults take control of their recovery and allow them to open up without fear of stigma or shame.”