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The Importance of Emilia Clarke Opening Up About Her Brain Damage

Last week, Emmy-nominated actress Emilia Clarke, who is best known for her role in Game of Thrones, revealed her battle with brain damage. On Thursday, The New Yorker posted a long, heartfelt article written by Clarke herself talking about her brain aneurysms, brain surgeries and even suicidal thoughts she experienced.

Clarke opens the article with a reflection of on the first season of Game of Thrones, and how she got the role as Daenerys Targaryen without any professional acting experience. Clarke speaks highly of her character, explaining that “[Daenerys] becomes a figure of power and self-possession.” She contrasts that with how nervous she was before the series premiere due to the overwhelming amount of faith and pressure put on her by the show’s creators, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

“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.”

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Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen via Gyfcat

This is where things turn dark for the actress. According to Clarke, in February 2011, she had her first subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH,) a type of fatal strok, caused by bleeding in the space between the brain and the brain tissue. After that, she reveals that she was only 24-years-old when she had brain surgery performed on her for the first time. One of the side effects of the three-hour-long surgery, was aphasia, the lack of ability to communicate and express speech.

Unfortunately, this is where Clarke experiences suicidal ideation because she feels like she’s lost hope for her career, which is based on communication and language. “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.” A few weeks later after press tours and being back on the Game of Thrones set, Clarke’s doctors found a seemingly harmless aneurysm ready to rupture.

But Clarke pushed through and continued to film the second season of the show, despite being constantly tired and worried that she might die. In 2013, Clarke underwent brain surgery that had gone wrong, so the doctors had to open her skull. Parts of her skull had been replaced with titanium. The recovery following the procedure was filled with unbearable pain and frequent anxiety attacks. However, she was resilient and attended San Diego Comic-Con that year and ever since then she has been at her best. “In the years since my second surgery, I have healed beyond my most unreasonable hopes. I am now at a hundred per cent.”

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Emilia Clarke at 2013 SDCC via Flickr

Now that Clarke is back on her feet, better than ever, she is using her large platform to form a charity, called SameYou. The goal of the charity is to increase access to neurorehabilitation for people who suffer from brain injuries and strokes. Neurorehabilitation is defined as “a complex medical process which aims to aid recovery from a nervous system injury, and to minimize and/or compensate for any functional alterations resulting from it.”

Clarke is using her experience to bring light to a topic that affects hundreds of thousands of people everywhere. Each year, strokes kill about 140,000 people in America and approximately six million American people have a non-ruptured brain aneurysm. Not only is she an actress on one of the most highly-decorated television shows ever, but she is an ambassador for the Royal College of Nursing and Nursing Now. Both programs aim to help nurses get more advanced training for nursing in recovery and rehabilitation. Along with RNC and Nursing Now, the Stroke Association UK and the Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Boston – USA are partners with SameYou.

Clarke isn’t just fighting for brain injury awareness. She’s advocating for proper rehabilitation and recovery for brain injury victims, and wants increased funding for neurorehabilitation, instead of “immediate post-acute rehabilitation.” In the United States, the average cost for treating a stroke patient is on average $40,000 in post-acute rehabilitation. The median household income in America is less than $60,000. However, with more awareness and funding going towards brain recovery through neurorehabilitation, more stroke patients can afford hospital care.

Her speaking up about her traumatic, near-death experiences fighting brain injuries can and will encourage many people out there who have suffered the same ailments as her to speak up as well. This charity, along with the other credible charities she’s partnered with, can help save the lives of many people who have had strokes. Thank you, Emilia Clarke for sharing your story and empowering others to do so.

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