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Emilia Clarke survived near-fatal brain strokes while filming Game of Thrones

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For the most part of shooting Game of Thrones, Daenerys Targaryen actor Emilia Clarke was in incredible pain and thought she was going to die at any moment. In a personal essay published in The New Yorker on Thursday, the 32-year-old actor revealed for the first time that she had suffered two near-fatal brain aneurysms requiring multiple surgeries since 2011.

The aneurysms (rupture of artery walls) caused Clarke severe pain and trauma for almost eight years. What she had suffered is called Subarachnoid Haemorrhage (SAH), a type of brain stroke caused by excessive bleeding in the space surrounding the brain. About one-third of SAH sufferers die immediately or soon after; another one-third never fully recover from the ensuing brain damage.

Throughout this period, Clarke was in constant fear of death and cognitive decline. She had developed a condition called Aphasia after the first stroke. It affected her memory, so much so that at one point she couldn’t recall her own name. She was in “blind panic”, and even contemplated suicide, Clarke recalls in the essay:

“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.”

The first aneurysm happened during a workout session shortly after Clarke had wrapped up filming for Season 1. She was 24 years old at that time. A brain surgery had to be performed to repair the rupture. Recovery was slow, and Clarke was in incredible pain throughout the filming of Season 2. Clarke recalls how it affected her performance in the show:

Emilia Clarke in a scene from Game of Thrones Season 2.

“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.”

But Clarke’s ordeal didn’t end there. In 2013, soon after she had finished filming for Season 3, a brain scan revealed another aneurysm in her brain. She went in for a preventive minimally-invasive surgery in New York on her doctor’s advice, but it went horribly wrong. Clarke had to go through with an open-skull surgery immediately after.

Eight years later, Clarke is now healthy and pain-free. Since recovering from her condition, she has helped developed a charity organization called SameYou that provides treatment to people recovering from brain injuries and stroke. She also talks candidly about her inability to manage the stress of new-found fame after Season 1. Like many of her co-stars, Clarke was a debutant and had no experience of celebrity pressure before Game of Thrones.

“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.”

Well, Emilia Clarke is no less a survivor and fighter than the Mother of Dragons, it seems.

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