Emilia Clarke Reveals She Thought She Was Going to Die After Suffering Two Aneurysms
By Desiree Murphy
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Emilia Clarke is opening up about two near-fatal health scares she encountered.
In a first-person article, titled "A Battle For My Life" and published in The New Yorker on Thursday, the Game of Thrones star reveals for the first time ever that she suffered two aneurysms.
The 32-year-old actress, who portrays Daenerys Targaryen, says she had the first one at the beginning of 2011, just after filming had wrapped for season one of the popular fantasy series.
"Just when all my childhood dreams seemed to have come true, I nearly lost my mind and then my life," Clarke recalls. "The show's creators, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, have said that my character is a blend of Napoleon, Joan of Arc and Lawrence of Arabia. And yet, in the weeks after we finished shooting the first season, despite all the looming excitement of a publicity campaign and the series premiere, I hardly felt like a conquering spirit."
"I was terrified. Terrified of the attention, terrified of a business I barely understood, terrified of trying to make good on the faith that the creators of Thrones had put in me," she continues. "I felt, in every way, exposed. In the very first episode, I appeared naked, and, from that first press junket onward, I always got the same question: some variation of, 'You play such a strong woman, and yet you take off your clothes. Why?' In my head, I'd respond, 'How many men do I need to kill to prove myself?'"
Clarke says she started working with a personal trainer to help her relieve all the added stress she was feeling at the time. But, on the morning of Feb. 11, 2011, something went terribly wrong.
"I was getting dressed in the locker room of a gym in Crouch End, North London, when I started to feel a bad headache coming on," she remembers. "I was so fatigued that I could barely put on my sneakers. When I started my workout, I had to force myself through the first few exercises."
"Then 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," she adds. "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."
In that moment, Clarke says she kept trying to tell herself she was "not paralyzed," by moving her fingers and toes and recalling lines from Game of Thrones. She says a concerned woman in the stall next to her came to the rescue.
"She came to help me and maneuvered me onto my side, in the recovery position. Then everything became, at once, noisy and blurry," says Clarke. "I remember the sound of a siren, an ambulance; I heard new voices, someone saying that my pulse was weak. I was throwing up bile. Someone found my phone and called my parents, who live in Oxfordshire, and they were told to meet me at the emergency room of Whittington Hospital."
"A fog of unconsciousness settled over me," she adds. "From an ambulance, I was wheeled on a gurney into a corridor filled with the smell of disinfectant and the noises of people in distress. Because no one knew what was wrong with me, the doctors and nurses could not give me any drugs to ease the pain."
Clarke recalls then going in for an MRI, where she was diagnosed with 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," she explains. "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."
Secretly, Clarke then underwent brain surgery. "I was in the middle of my very busy life -- I had no time for brain surgery," she remembers. "But, finally, I settled down and signed. And then I was unconscious. For the next three hours, surgeons went about repairing my brain. This would not be my last surgery, and it would not be the worst. I was 24 years old."
"One month after being admitted, I left the hospital, longing for a bath and fresh air," she continues. "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. 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."
Clarke says that after filming season 3 in 2013, she underwent a second surgery. The surgery didn't go as planned, leaving her in excruciating pain with a massive bleed. The surgeons had to immediately operate on her another time, this time, going in through her skull instead of the less-invasive procedures that had before.
"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," Clarke remembers. "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."
Despite recalling such a serious moment of her life, Clarke was still able to throw in a few jokes in her first-person tell-all. She seemingly takes a subtle dig at her ex-boyfriend, Seth McFarlane, who she dated in 2012 and 2013.
"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," Clarke jokes, while continuing to discuss the second operation. "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," she continues. "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."
Game of Thrones returns to HBO for its eighth and final season on April 14. In the meantime, read Clarke's full story here and watch the video below to get caught up on everything you need to know about the series with ET's official recap.