How Emilia Clarke Nearly Died–Twice–from Brain Aneurysms

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We already knew that Danaerys Targaryen was a survivor. But it turns out that Emilia Clarke is just as tough in real life. Clarke recently revealed that she survived 2 brain aneurysms between filming seasons of Game of Thrones.

Emilia Clarke
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Clarke wrote a powerful essay for The New Yorker about her harrowing, near-fatal experiences.

The First Time

After the first season of Game of Thrones, when it became clear that she was part of a global phenomenon, Clarke struggled with the spotlight. To relieve stress, she began working out with a trainer regularly in London.

She recalls a sudden headache during one gym session that made her violently ill. And then she realized this was no ordinary migraine: “the pain–shooting, stabbing, constricting pain–was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.”

At just 24 years old, the star of the biggest TV show on the planet, Emilia Clarke had suffered a brain aneurysm.

Unable to Speak

After emergency surgery, Clarke struggled with aphasia–she literally couldn’t remember how to speak. Convinced that her life as an actor was over, she fell into despair.

Thankfully, the aphasia passed after about a week in the ICU. And then, a month after her surgery, she was back on her feet. The show must go on, even though she was still feeling weak and shaky, Clarke began filming season 2 of GoT.

A Second Aneurysm

Her nightmarish journey wasn’t over yet. In 2013, doctors found a growth of blood vessels in her brain–another aneurysm waiting to happen. This time, they had to completely open up her skull to repair the bleed. Clarke recalls that she was “convinced she wasn’t going to live” through the surgery.

Although she’s now completely recovered, Clarke wanted to share her experience with the world. Her illness was kept secret all these years, but she felt it was finally time to go public. She’s also planning to launch a charity called SameYou to help people who have struggled with brain injuries.

Stroke or Aneurysm?

There are two basic types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks a blood vessel to the brain. The late Luke Perry suffered this type of stroke.

Clarke suffered from a subarachnoid hemorrhage or SAH. A hemorrhagic stroke, also called an aneurysm, happens when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or even bursts, causing catastrophic problems in the brain. She later found out a third of people who experience this type of aneurysm die immediately.

Clarke recalls getting frequent headaches in her teens and even getting so light-headed that she collapsed in drama class. At the time, she thought it was stress. Now, she thinks it was a warning sign. After all, anyone can experience either type of stroke, no matter their age or health.