Emilia Clarke Opens Up About Life-Threatening Brain Aneurisms

"Every day I thought I was going to die"

21 March 2019

Article heading image for Emilia Clarke Opens Up About Life-Threatening Brain Aneurisms
Image: HBO

Actress Emilia Clarke has spoke out about suffering two life-threatening brain aneurisms amidst filming Game of Thrones.

Writing for The New Yorker, the 32-year-old revealed she suffered her first aneurism in 2011 whilst working out with a trainer after the very first season wrapped filming.

“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.

“My trainer had me get into the plank position, and 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. I told my trainer I had to take a break.

“Somehow, almost crawling, I made it to the locker room. I reached the toilet, sank to my knees, and proceeded to be violently, voluminously ill. Meanwhile, the pain—shooting, stabbing, constricting pain—was getting worse. At some level, I knew what was happening: my brain was damaged.”

Emilia was just 24-years-old when she was diagnosed with a subarachnoid haemorrhage; a form of stroke which sees a sudden leaking of a blood vessel into the space surrounding the brain.

“I’d had an aneurysm, an arterial rupture. As I later learned, about a third of SAH patients die immediately or soon thereafter. For the patients who do survive, urgent treatment is required to seal off the aneurysm, as there is a very high risk of a second, often fatal bleed. If I was to live and avoid terrible deficits, I would have to have urgent surgery. And, even then, there were no guarantees.”


She then went on to describe some of her most challenging moments. When she first woke up from surgery, she couldn’t remember her name.

“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.

“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—centred on language, on communication. Without that, I was lost.”

On top of dealing with excruciating pain and constant fear that every day would be her last, Emilia kept working.    

“Staying at a hotel in London during a publicity tour, I vividly remember thinking, I can’t keep up or think or breathe, much less try to be charming. I sipped on morphine in between interviews.

“... On the set, I didn’t miss a beat, but I struggled. 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.

After filming the show’s third season, doctors told her a growth on the other side of her brain had doubled in size. This caused her to experience a brain surgery which was much more dangerous and painful, where surgeons had to cut through her skull, replacing parts with titanium.

Since this surgery, Emilia says she has “healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes” and has thrown herself into charity work with the SameYou organisation which aims to provide treatment to those who are recovering from brain injuries and strokes. 

“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.

“There is something gratifying, and beyond lucky, about coming to the end of 'Thrones.' I’m so happy to be here to see the end of this story and the beginning of whatever comes next.”

Read the full article here.

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