Keala Settle recently opened up about being diagnosed with a rare brain disorder and suffering from a stroke a mere week before she was scheduled to perform at the Oscars, People is reporting. While Settle isn’t new to the entertainment industry, her break-out role was in 2017’s The Greatest Showman, starring alongside Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, Michelle Williams, and Zendaya. Settle portrayed “the Bearded Lady” and had moviegoers taking notice with her rousing rendition of the song “This is Me.”
Settle explained that she was set to perform the same song at the 2018 Academy Awards when disaster struck. It all started with a bout of food poisoning she contracted in Tokyo while on a worldwide tour to promote The Greatest Showman. Feeling fragile and frustrated, Settle broke down while on a set in Burbank, California, on February 24. As she burst into tears, she began to lose sensation on the right side of her body and felt a shooting pain in her head — definitely not normal.
“It was like someone cracked an egg on the top of my head and then drew a line on my body, turning one half off,” Settle explained. “My body started drooping immediately. I tried to put my hands up to my face, but I could only move my left arm. I couldn’t talk because part of my tongue was immobile. I tried to stand, but there was nothing. I was panicked. I let out this wail because I was so scared and the room went silent. All I could figure out how to say was ‘Help.'”
Her symptoms subsided within 20 minutes, indicating that she may have suffered a type of “mini-stroke” called a transient ischemic attack. After taking various tests at the hospital, Settle finally received her diagnosis: Moyamoya disease. Scans of Settle’s brain showed that half of it was actually suffering a blockage from blood flow and oxygen for years due to collated carotid arteries. To make up for the blockage, her body formed tiny blood vessels for her brain. After some time, the vessels were no longer able to compensate for the blockage and became weak, resulting in them drying out and snapping.
“It could have happened at any time,” said Settle. “It just so happened to happen a week before the biggest performance of my life.”
The determined actress opted to postpone surgery so that she could make her prior work commitments, such as her Oscar performance. She had plenty of support, with Jackman reportedly FaceTiming her every day and actress Chrissy Metz visiting her friend to check on her. The Academy sent her flowers, and famous fashion designer Christian Siriano even helped fit Settle into her Oscar gown at the hospital. While her performance went off without a hitch, she later struggled post-surgery, having to remain in the ICU for six days, receive a blood transfusion, and undergoing cognitive and physical therapy.
While Moyamoya disease has no cure and she will be on medication for the rest of her life, the surgery lessened her chances of suffering from a disabling stroke significantly.
“The universe had its chance to take me and I’m still here,” she said. “I’m just so grateful to be alive and I’m not giving that up.”