Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke launched a charity this week after revealing she nearly died from two brain aneurysms that required emergency surgeries. The frightening series of events left her fearful that her life could end at any moment and, up till now, she’s felt too vulnerable to share her personal battles with the public. But now that she says, “I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes. I am now at a hundred percent,” the English actress has found the courage to share her harrowing experiences via The New Yorker with a personal history entitled A Battle for My Life.”

“I had just finished filming Season 1 of ‘Game of Thrones.’ Then I was struck with the first of two aneurysms,” she reveals.

Emilia wanted to be an actress since she was a young child. Her father was a theater sound engineer, and her visits to the theater left her enraptured with both the shows as well as the backstage hustle and bustle. As early as kindergarten, Clarke was cast in school plays and gradually increased her acting skills. She went on to attend the Drama Centre London but found herself not landing the roles she most aspired to play. So, after graduating, she made a deal with herself: for one year, she’d only accept “roles with some promise.” As fate would have it, auditions for the HBO pilot Game of Thrones were being held in London in the spring of 2010. At this point in her life, she says:

“In those days, I thought of myself as healthy. Sometimes I got a little light-headed, because I often had low blood pressure and a low heart rate. Once in a while, I’d get dizzy and pass out. When I was fourteen, I had a migraine that kept me in bed for a couple of days, and in drama school I’d collapse once in a while. But it all seemed manageable, part of the stress of being an actor and of life in general. Now I think that I might have been experiencing warning signs of what was to come.”

Needless to say, Clarke’s audition went well. In fact, after her callback, casting ran after her before she could leave the auditorium saying, “Congratulations, Princess!”

Her lifelong dream had come true when she was cast as Game of Thrones‘ Daenerys Targaryen. And after the first season’s shoot, Clarke was gearing up to promote the series. One day while she was working out in the gym, she was overwhelmed with pain and knew something was seriously wrong. She writes:

“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. 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.”

It was a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a form of a stroke caused by a ruptured aneurysm, and she was rushed to the hospital where she was surgically treated. Afterward, Clarke found herself overcome with pain, and she was told about the critical next two-week period of time; if she didn’t have any setbacks in the healing process, her chances of recovery would be looking good.

Unfortunately, after just passing the pivotal milestone, she was alarmed to discover she couldn’t remember her name. When she tried to speak, unintelligible sounds came out. The condition is called aphasia, and it was triggered by all the trauma her brain was enduring.

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

Fortunately, her speech did return and, weeks later, she left the hospital and struggled to make the rounds doing interviews for Game of Thrones—indeed, sipping on morphine in between interviews—and soon returned to set to shoot the second season. But Clarke was haunted by the news that she now had yet another aneurysm forming in her brain. She confidentially informed her Thrones bosses about it but didn’t want her condition to interfere with the show’s scheduling. Privately, she struggled with pain, weakness, and “the worst exhaustion I’d ever experienced, multiplied by a million.” Worst of all, she feared she could die at any moment.

Soon, she had to go through a second operation to treat her growing aneurysm—and it did not go well. In agonizing pain, she was rushed into emergency surgery and endured another month of difficult recovery.

Thankfully, the actress has healed beautifully, and she now has a lot of hope in her life. In turn, she’s worked together with partners in the U.K. and the United States to form a charity called SameYou. It seeks to provide treatment for people who are recovering from brain injuries and stroke. On the charity’s website, Clarke says:

“Not everyone is able to make a full recovery after brain injury or stroke, but I believe that everyone should have access to the best possible mental and physical rehabilitation to maximise their individual recovery potential.”

The website received so much interest in its first few days, it crashed. But those who are interested in telling their personal stories or making a donation are asked to return in the days to come. As for Clarke, she’s overjoyed to be putting this chapter behind her and is excited to see what comes next in her life.

 

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