Emilia Clarke on surviving 2 brain aneurysms: ‘I’ve cheated death’

Emilia Clarke says she’s “cheated death” after surviving two brain aneurysms, with the first one taking place after she had just finished filming the first season of “Game of Thrones.”

In a lengthy op-ed for The New Yorker, Clarke explained that she started working out with a trainer to relieve stress from the attention she was about to get from her starring role as Daenerys Targaryen. During a workout in London, she “felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain,” and she started 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,” she wrote. “For a few moments, I tried to will away the pain and the nausea. I said to myself, ‘I will not be paralyzed.’ I moved my fingers and toes to make sure that was true.

Clarke was taken to the hospital, where a brain scan revealed that she had suffered a “subarachnoid hemorrhage,” an arterial rupture aneurysm.

“As I later learned, about a third of SAH patients die immediately or soon thereafter,” she explained. “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.”

In retrospect, Clarke said she saw early signs of what was to come. During the time she was auditioning for “Game of Thrones,” she thought of herself as healthy, although “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.”

The first surgery had been minimally invasive, but when Clarke woke up, she had “unbearable” pain and her field of vision was constricted, and she couldn’t remember her name.

“In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug,” she wrote. “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.”

Then, Clarke was told she had a smaller aneurysm on the other side of her brain that could “pop” anytime, but it should just be watched for the time being. She went into filming Season 2, and she felt weak and thought she “was going to die.”

She added, “On the first day of shooting for Season 2, in Dubrovnik, I kept telling myself, ‘I am fine, I’m in my twenties, I’m fine.’ I threw myself into the work. But, after that first day of filming, I barely made it back to the hotel before I collapsed of exhaustion. 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 finishing Season 3, Clarke went in for a brain scan and doctors told her that the growth had doubled in size and that it should be taken care of. Another surgery was up next, but the procedure 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,” Clarke said. “This time they needed to access my brain in the old-fashioned way–through my skull. And the operation had to happen immediately.”

She emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of her head, some parts of her brain replaced by titanium.

“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 said. “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.”

She wrote: “A few weeks after that second surgery, I went with a few other cast members to Comic-Con, in San Diego. The fans at Comic-Con are hardcore; you don’t want to disappoint them. There were several thousand people in the audience, and, right before we went on to answer questions, I was hit by a horrific headache. Back came that sickeningly familiar sense of fear. I thought, This is it. My time is up; I’ve cheated death twice and now he’s coming to claim me.”

Read Clarke’s full op-ed here.

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Emilia Clarke over the years
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Emilia Clarke over the years
PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 07: Actress Emilia Clarke speaks at the HBO Winter 2011 TCA Panel held at the Langham Hotel on January 7, 2011 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
Actress Emilia Clarke and Actor Peter Dinklage attend the HBO Winter 2011 TCA Panel held at the Langham Hotel on January 7, 2011 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
MONACO - JUNE 08: Emilia Clarke arrives at the screening of 'Game Of Thrones' at Grimaldi Forum on June 8, 2011 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Tony Barson/WireImage)
US actress Emilia Clarke poses during a photocall for the TV show 'Game of thrones' as part of the 2011 Monte Carlo Television Festival held at the Grimaldi Forum on June 9, 2011 in Monte-Carlo, Monaco. The Monte Carlo Television Festival held since 1961, aims at encouraging the new art form of television. AFP PHOTO VALERY HACHE (Photo credit should read VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
MONACO - JUNE 10: Emilia Clarke arrives to attend the closing ceremony of the 51st Monte Carlo TV Festival at the Grimaldi forum on June 10, 2011 in Monaco, Monaco. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 21: Actress Emilia Clarke poses at HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Panel during Comic-Con 2011 on July 21, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 21: Actors Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke pose at HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Panel during Comic-Con 2011 on July 21, 2011 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
Emilia Clarke attends the 'Game of Thrones' panel at 2011 Comic-Con International - Day 1 at San Diego Convention Center on July 21, 2011 in San Diego, California. *** Local Caption ***
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 13: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the 12th Annual AFI Awards held at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 13, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 13: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the 2011 AFI Awards Luncheon at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 13, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 15: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at HBO's Official After Party for the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 15: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at HBO's Official After Party for the 69th Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton hotel on January 15, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic)
HAMBURG, GERMANY - MAY 23: Actress Emilia Clarke attends SKY launchevent Party at 'Schuppen 52' on May 23, 2012 in Hamburg, Germany. (Photo by Christian Augustin/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 07: (EMBARGOED FOR PUBLICATION IN UK TABLOID NEWSPAPERS UNTIL 48 HOURS AFTER CREATE DATE AND TIME. MANDATORY CREDIT PHOTO BY DAVE M. BENETT/GETTY IMAGES REQUIRED) Actress Emilia Clarke attends the UK premiere of 'Fast Girls' at the Odeon West End on June 7, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Dave M. Benett/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 13: Actress Emilia Clarke participates in HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Panel - Comic-Con International 2012 held at San Diego Convention Center on July 12, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 14: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at Entertainment Weekly's Comic-Con celebration at Float at Hard Rock Hotel San Diego on July 14, 2012 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Chelsea Lauren/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Emilia Clarke attends the BAFTA Los Angeles TV Tea 2012 Presented By BBC America at The London Hotel on September 22, 2012 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the BAFTA Los Angeles TV Tea 2012 Presented By BBC America at The London Hotel on September 22, 2012 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 23: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 23, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 18: Emilia Clarke is seen at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) on December 18, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GONZALO/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 11: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the 2012 AFI Awards Luncheon on January 11, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 13: Actress Emilia Clarke attends HBO's Post 2013 Golden Globe Awards Party held at Circa 55 Restaurant at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 13, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 06: Actress Emilia Clarke attends the amfAR New York Gala to kick off Fall 2013 Fashion Week at Cipriani Wall Street on February 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 09: Emilia Clarke attends the Altuzarra After Party during Fall 2013 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at the Gramercy Park Hotel on February 9, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Rabbani and Solimene Photography/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 27: Emilia Clarke and Cory Michael Smith attend the 'Breakfast At Tiffany's' Press Preview at Cafe Carlyle on February 27, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 12: Emilia Clarke leaves the 'Late Show with David Letterman' at Ed Sullivan Theater on March 12, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Donna Ward/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 17: Emilia Clarke is seen at Los Angeles International Airport on March 17, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MARCH 18: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the premiere of HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' Season 3 at TCL Chinese Theatre on March 18, 2013 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 19: Emilia Clarke is seen at Los Angeles International Airport on March 19, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 20: Actress/cast member Emilia Clarke attends the 'Breakfast At Tiffany's' Broadway Opening Night after party at The Edison Ballroom on March 20, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 01: Emilia Clarke visits 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' on April 1, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: Actress Emilia Clarke attends the 2013 Actors Fund Gala at the Marriott Marquis Hotel on April 29, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 04: Actress Emilia Clarke attends Dolce&Gabbana, along with Giovanna Battaglia, celebrate the opening of the 5th Avenue Flagship Boutique on May 4, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Dolce&Gabbana)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 06: Emilia Clarke attends the Costume Institute Gala for the 'PUNK: Chaos to Couture' exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 08: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the 'Dom Hemingway' Premiere during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival at Princess of Wales Theatre on September 8, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 09: Emilia Clarke arrives at the TIFF HFPA/InStyle Party during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival held at Windsor Arms Hotel on September 9, 2013 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 21: Emilia Clarke arrives at LAX on September 21, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Actor Dean Norris (L) and actress Emilia Clarke speak onstage during the 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on September 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 22: Actress Emilia Clarke attends HBO's Annual Primetime Emmy Awards Post Award Reception at The Plaza at the Pacific Design Center on September 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 21: Actress Emilia Clarke attends ELLE's 20th Annual Women In Hollywood Celebration at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on October 21, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for ELLE)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 09: Emilia Clarke is seen at LAX airport on January 09, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by GVK/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 10: Emilia Clarke arrives at the American Film Institute Awards Luncheon at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 10, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 12: Actress Emilia Clarke attends the 71st Annual Golden Globe Awards held at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 12, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 18: Actress Emilia Clarke attends 20th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 18, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 01: Actress Emilia Clarke attends the Chanel and Charles Finch pre-Oscar dinner at Madeo Restaurant on March 1, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 25: Actress Emilia Clarke attends TNT's 21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. 25184_018 (Photo by Theo Wargo/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 18: Emilia Clarke attends the 'Game Of Thrones' Season 4 premiere at Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center on March 18, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/WireImage)
THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JIMMY FALLON -- Episode 0023 -- Pictured: Emilia Clarke during an interview on Wednesday, March 19, 2014 -- (Photo by: Lloyd Bishop/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - JUNE 21: Actor Emilia Clarke attends the European Premiere of 'Terminator: Genisys' at the CineStar Sony Center on June 21, 2015 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Anita Bugge/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 28: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the Los Angeles premiere of 'Terminator Genisys' at the Dolby Theatre on June 28, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Barry King/WireImage)
JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE - Emmy Award-nominated 'Jimmy Kimmel Live' airs every weeknight (11:35 p.m. - 12:41 a.m., ET), packed with hilarious comedy bits and features a diverse lineup of guests including celebrities, athletes, musicians, comedians and humorous human interest subjects; The guests for MONDAY, JUNE 29 included actress Emilia Clarke ('Terminator Genisys'), actress Vanessa Bayer ('Trainwreck') and musical guest Miguel. (Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 02: Emilia Clarke attends the movie 'Terminator Genisys' press conference at The Ritz Carlton on July 2, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by The Chosunilbo JNS/Multi-Bits via Getty Images)
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA - JULY 02: Emilia Clarke attends the movie 'Terminator Genisys' red carpet event at Lotte World Mall on July 2, 2015 in Seoul, South Korea. (Photo by The Chosunilbo JNS/Multi-Bits via Getty Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 02: Emilia Clarke is seen leaving the 'Colette' Concept Store on October 2, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Pierre Suu/GC Images)
PARIS, FRANCE - OCTOBER 02: Emilia Clarke attends the Christian Dior show as part of the Paris Fashion Week Womenswear Spring/Summer 2016 on October 2, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Foc Kan/WireImage)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - OCTOBER 28: Actress Emilia Clarke attends TheWrap's Power Women Breakfast at Ocean Prime on October 28, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 09: Actress Emilia Clarke attends the BAFTA Los Angeles Awards Season Tea at Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles at Beverly Hills on January 9, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/BAFTA LA/Getty Images for BAFTA LA)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14: Emilia Clarke attends the official After Party Dinner for the EE British Academy Film Awards at The Grosvenor House Hotel on February 14, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by John Phillips/Getty Images)
BURBANK, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 09: Emilia Clarke attends the 2016 MTV Movie Awards at Warner Bros. Studios on April 9, 2016 in Burbank, California.(Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 10: Actress Emilia Clarke attends the premiere for the sixth season of HBO's 'Game Of Thrones' at TCL Chinese Theatre on April 10, 2016 in Hollywood City. (Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for HBO)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 23: Actress Emilia Clarke is seen on the set of 'Good Morning America' on May 23, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 23: Actress Emilia Clarke attends The World Premiere of 'Me Before You' at AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13 theater on May 23, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 18: Actress Emilia Clarke arrives at the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 07: Emilia Clarke attends Heavenly Bodies: Fashion & The Catholic Imagination Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 7, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Karwai Tang/Karwai Tang/Getty Images)
NICE, FRANCE - MAY 14: Actress Emilia Clarke is seen during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Nice Airport on May 14, 2018 in Nice, France. (Photo by Marc Piasecki/GC Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 15: Actress Emilia Clarke attends the photocall for 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 15, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Dominique Charriau/WireImage)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 15: Emilia Clarke attends the Kering Women In Motion photocall during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Majestic Hotel on May 15, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by George Pimentel/WireImage)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 15: Emilia Clarke attends the screening of 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' during the 71st annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 15, 2018 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Andreas Rentz/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 21: Emilia Clarke attends the 'Solo: A Star Wars Story' New York Premiere - After Party on May 21, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 23: Emilia Clarke is seen walking in Soho on May 23, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Raymond Hall/GC Images)
ABERDEEN, SCOTLAND - JUNE 23: Emilia Clarke arriving at Rayne Church in Kirkton on Rayne for the wedding of Kit Harrington and Rose Leslie on June 23, 2018 in Aberdeen, Scotland. (Photo by Mark R. Milan/GC Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 17: Emilia Clarke attends the 70th Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 17, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images)
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