The Greatest Showman breakout star Keala Settle suffered a stroke just a week before she took the stage at the 2018 Academy Awards.
The singer and actress, who is known for playing the Bearded Lady in the beloved movie musical, opened up about suffering the health scare where she lost half of her body's motor functions while rehearsing for her performance of Oscar-nominated song "This Is Me."
Her symptoms led doctors to diagnose her with a rare cerebrovascular disorder known as Moyamoya disease, as first reported by PEOPLE.
Six months after undergoing brain surgery to correct the disorder, Settle opened up to the outlet about her health crisis and how it has changed her.
"It's shifted me in ways I'm still understanding," she told the publication. "The way that I look at the world is so completely different. I'm more at peace than I've ever been; I can find the joy in things I never could. This truly gave me another lease on life."
Settle revealed she first began to feel ill in the weeks ahead of her Academy Awards performance. Touring the globe to promote the film and its chart-topping soundtrack, the actress said her immune system was left compromised.
"I was completely rundown," she said. "I had gotten food poisoning in Tokyo, I was fighting a cold. I barely had anything left to give."
She relived a scary moment on Feb. 24, when she had a nervous breakdown on set of a rehearsal space in Burbank, California. In tears, the actress felt a shooting pain in her skull and started to feel the right side of her brain feeling numb.
"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," she remembered. "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," she continues. "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.'"
Settle had suffered a mini-stroke, which produces similar systems to a large stroke, often signaling deeper trouble going on in the body.
After the mini-stroke was handled, a series of brain scans revealed that half of her brain was blocked from blood flow and oxygen for years due to collated carotid arteries (the major blood vessels in the neck that supply blood to the brain, neck and face). To make up for the blockage, her brain created blood vessels at the base to supply it with blood, when the smaller vessels dried out, they snapped.
"It could have happened at any time," Settle explains, noting that the condition is prevalent in a lot of women, specifically Asian Pacific Islanders. "It just so happened to happen a week before the biggest performance of my life."
Settle revealed she chose to delay her surgery until after the performance, keeping the news of her condition to a small group of people that included Hugh Jackman, the Academy and This Is Us star Chrissy Metz.
After the performance, which was viewed live by millions of people, Settle referred to "This Is Me" as "the song that almost killed me."
She finally had her surgery to correct the issue on April 27. Though her disorder is not curable, the surgery has reduced her risk for further strokes and she will remain on medication to treat the disease for life.0comments
Despite the scary chapter in her life, Settle is determined to keep going. She will next be featured as part of the ensemble cast of Fox's Rent Live, airing Jan. 27.
"The universe had its chance to take me and I'm still here," she told PEOPLE. "I'm just so grateful to be alive and I'm not giving that up."