'Game of Thrones' Star Emilia Clarke Reveals She Suffered 2 Life-Threatening Strokes
Suddenly, during a workout, Emilia Clarke "felt as though an elastic band were squeezing my brain."
Just about a month after Luke Perry died of a stroke, another actor has revealed that her life was threatened twice by the medical emergency.
In a candid and harrowing essay published Thursday in The New Yorker, "Game of Thrones" star Emilia Clarke described the moment her brain began bleeding. In the beginning of 2011, after wrapping the first season of "GoT," she was working out when she "started to feel a bad headache coming on."
Then, Clarke said it "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. ... 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," Clarke wrote in the magazine.
Clarke, who thought of herself as "healthy," hoped the pain would subside. She said she made a point to move her fingers and toes and recall lines from her show. But after a woman in the next stall came to help her, she said "a fog of unconsciousness" came over her as she was rushed to the hospital.
An MRI brain scan revealed a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) — when a blood vessel bursts and causes bleeding in the space surrounding the brain. She was 24 at the time.
According to Mayfield Brain and Spine, one-third of patients who suffer a SAH die, one-third will survive with a disability and one-third will survive with good recovery.
The other type of stroke, or "brain attack," is when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain, according to the National Stroke Association. Nearly 800,000 people experience a stroke each year.
"For each minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow to the brain continues to be blocked, a person loses about 1.9 million neurons. This could mean that a person’s speech, movement, memory, and so much more can be affected," the NSA says on its website.
After a "minimally invasive" surgery that took three hours, Clarke said, there were times when she couldn't remember her name and "nonsense words tumbled out" of her mouth — a condition called aphasia, caused by the trauma her brain suffered.
"In my worst moments, I wanted to pull the plug. I asked the medical staff to let me die," Clarke wrote.
The aphasia subsided and she was able to leave the hospital after about a month. In just a few weeks, Clarke said, she was due back on the "GoT" set.
It wasn't until 2013, after filming season three, that a routine brain scan showed a growth on the opposite side of Clarke's brain had doubled in size. Doctors said they wanted to "take care of it," she wrote. But what should have been an even easier operation than the first, according to doctors, turned into a nightmare.
Clarke said the procedure failed and she had a massive bleed. "The doctors made it plain that my chances of surviving were precarious if they didn’t operate again," Clarke wrote.
So the doctors opened Clarke's skull to stop the bleed, leaving her with a scar that runs from her scalp to her ear. "I looked as though I had been through a war more gruesome than any that Daenerys experienced. I emerged from the operation with a drain coming out of my head. Bits of my skull had been replaced by titanium."
Clarke spent another month in the hospital, a stay filled with "terrible anxiety, panic attacks," she said.
However, she recovered.
"In the years since my second surgery I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes," Clarke wrote.
The Emmy-nominated actress, now 32, has helped develop a charity called SameYou, which provides resources for people recovering from brain injuries.
Clarke's story, as well as Perry's, is an important reminder to know the signs of a stroke. Though Clarke said she thought she was healthy, she added that she thinks she had experienced other warning signs, such as dizziness and migraines. Knowing these symptoms, the NSA says, means the emergency can be addressed — fast.
Face: Does one side of their face droop when they smile?
Arms: Does one arm drift downward or appear weak when they raise both arms?
Speech: Does their speech sound slurred or strange when they say a simple phrase?
Time: Call 911 immediately if a person exhibits any of these signs.
Other symptoms of a stroke include: sudden numbness on one side of the body, sudden confusion or trouble speaking and understanding, sudden trouble seeing, sudden dizziness or loss of balance, and a sudden headache with no known cause.
The NSA says it is important to note the time the first symptom is observed. That time frame can affect treatment by medical professionals.
To help prevent a stroke, the NSA says people should have healthy eating habits, exercise and avoid smoking. High blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, diabetes and circulation problems are also risk factors for a stroke.
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