Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen has been successfully leading many battles onscreen on the epic saga. But actress Emilia Clarke just revealed that before she could charge into those scripted battle scenes, she first had to face a huge battle IRL – a battle for her life!
In a recent essay for The New Yorker, the 32-year-old actress opened up about two near-fatal health scares where she nearly lost her mind and her life after suffering two aneurysms.
“Just when all my childhood dreams seemed to have come true, I nearly lost my mind and then my life. I’ve never told this story publicly, but now it’s time,” she began.
The first one happened in February 11, 2011, after they had finished filming the first season of GoT. It began as a bad headache and relentless fatigue. During a workout session with her trainer, “I immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain. I tried to ignore the pain and push through it, but I just couldn’t.”
The pain only continued to get worse. “The pain—shooting, stabbing, constricting pain—was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged,” she recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I will not be paralyzed.’ I moved my fingers and toes to make sure that was true. To keep my memory alive, I tried to recall, among other things, some lines from ‘Game of Thrones.’”
She was rushed to the hospital – where she underwent an MRI scan. The doctors found “a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a life-threatening type of stroke,” which had caused bleeding in her brain. She needed brain surgery right away.
The operation lasted three hours. “That first surgery was what is known as ‘minimally invasive,’ meaning that they did not open up my skull,” she shared, revealing that while recovering from the surgery, she suffered a complication called aphasia – she couldn’t speak coherently, and couldn’t even remember her own name. The aphasia eventually passed, and after one month, she was released from the hospital. But all was still not well.
“I was told that I had a smaller aneurysm on the other side of my brain, and it could ‘pop’ at any time,” she recounted. “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.”
In 2013, she went back for a second surgery, and this time, there were some complications. “The procedure had failed,” she said of the first attempt. “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.”
Parts of her skull were replaced by titanium and she spent another month recovering. She even braved going to the San Diego Comic-Con a few weeks after being released from the hospital. When wind of her condition got out, she denied it at the time.
“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,” she shares.
Emilia knows she’s one of the lucky few to have been able to go through that ordeal and recover fully. And it’s her experiences that inspired her philanthropy in support of the cause close to her heart. “I’ve decided to throw myself into a charity I’ve helped develop in conjunction with partners in the U.K. and the U.S. It is called SameYou, and it aims to provide treatment for people recovering from brain injuries and stroke.”