Emilia Clarke said she is grateful that the two brain aneurysms she suffered in her 20s haven’t stripped her of her ability to live a normal life.
The former “Game of Thrones” star, 35, told BBC One’s “Sunday Morning” that she feels lucky to be able to communicate after experiencing the aneurysms, which happened while she was a cast member on the Emmy-winning HBO drama.
“The amount of my brain that is no longer usable — it’s remarkable that I am able to speak, sometimes articulately, and live my life completely normally with absolutely no repercussions,” Clarke said in a video excerpt from the interview published by Metro.
“I am in the really, really, really small minority of people that can survive that,” she added.
Clarke said a subsequent scan of her brain showed that “quite a bit” of it was “missing … which always makes me laugh.”
“Strokes, basically, as soon as any part of your brain doesn’t get blood for a second, it’s gone,” she continued. “And so the blood finds a quicker, a different route to get around but then whatever bit it’s missing is therefore gone.”
A brain aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of an artery. If it grows large, it can burst and cause life-threatening bleeding, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Brain aneurysms, also called cerebral aneurysms, affect 3% to 5% of the population, the American Heart Association noted. A ruptured brain aneurysm can cause a type of stroke known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage, according to Mayo Clinic, which is what Clarke experienced.
Clarke described her medical ordeal in a 2019 essay she wrote for The New Yorker.
The actor revealed that the first brain aneurysm happened in February 2011 after Season One of “Game of Thrones” wrapped. Clarke, then 24, was working out with a trainer when she experienced a painful sensation in her brain.
“My trainer had me get into the plank position and I immediately felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain,” she wrote. “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.”
After being taken to a hospital, Clarke was diagnosed with subarachnoid hemorrhage and underwent an emergency three-hour surgery.
After the procedure, she experienced excruciating pain, vision problems and aphasia, a condition where damage to the brain affects a person’s ability to speak and write. Clarke recalled that at one point she couldn’t remember her own name.
“In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug,” she wrote. “I asked the medical staff to let me die.”
While healing in the hospital over the next month, Clarke learned she had another smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain. Doctors told her it could remain dormant and harmless for the rest of her life. They advised keeping a “careful watch” on it.
But in 2013, while Clarke was in a play on Broadway, the actor, who had only five days remaining on her Screen Actors Guild insurance, underwent a brain scan that revealed the growth in her brain had doubled in size. Clarke underwent a procedure to treat it but experienced complications.
“When they woke me, I was screaming in pain,” Clarke wrote. “The procedure had failed. 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.”
Her recovery from the second surgery was even more difficult than the first. “I emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of my head. Bits of my skull had been replaced by titanium,” wrote the star, who also recalled experiencing debilitating panic and anxiety attacks in the hospital.
Eventually, she recovered and now lives a normal life.
“In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes,” she wrote. “I am now at a hundred per cent.”