Caught Live on Camera: Serene Branson’s Grammy Night – and Complex Migraine Attack

November 11, 2016

shutterstock_367864157“I knew what I wanted to say, but I didn’t have the words to say it.”

When the words came out all wrong, Serene Branson got scared.

On Sunday, February 13th, 2011, the Grammy’s had just concluded. Post-show, the cameras were thrown over to a young woman ready to give her live report outside the Staples Center. What happened next became a testament to the massive effects migraine onset can have.

As Branson attempted to set up the video in her live report, her words became slurred. Watch the video (Reference #1). You can see her eyes shifting around while shock registered on her face. Branson knew what was happening:  and entirely unable to control it, “I was scared. I was embarrassed. I was terrified and confused. Confused at what had just happened.”

As a live audience looked on, Serene Branson suffered a severe version of migraine known as complex migraine.

Dr. Neil Martin, head of neurosurgery at UCLA Medical Center, saw Branson that night. He had heard Branson’s mother had similar episodes throughout her life and gave the hypothesis that Branson was experiencing what her mother experienced: complex migraine. It’s often a hereditary condition, and the onset is unpredictable and frightening.

As frequently happens in our digital world, the video of Branson’s live migraine attack went viral. Most sympathetic people mistook her symptoms for a seizure. The least generous accused her of being drunk or on drugs. However, Branson also became a kind of hero for those who know the debilitating nature of migraines and it’s ongoing stigma in society.

People often misinterpreted the symptoms of a complex migraine. While there were a few who rushed to Branson’s defense, many derided her in ways many migraine sufferers are labeled to this day.

As we at Migraine Treatment Centers of America look back at Branson’s migraine attack, we can attest that the experience Branson had as migraine is real, and not some kind of “cover-up” story by those looking for more sinister reasons. The Branson’s migraine attack video is helpful in the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of migraines. Here are a few things people who don’t experience migraine may not understand: and should.

  • Migraines Are Not Just Bad Headaches: People often claim those who suffer from migraines are just having a bad headache. Though headaches are a symptom of migraine, as migraine sufferers know, migraine has many more, including nausea, sensitivity to light and sound, numbness, and as with Branson, difficulty in speech. And while a normal headache tends to last about half an hour, migraine can last for far longer.
  • Not All Migraines Are the Same: Serene Branson suffered from complex migraine on camera. However, complex migraine  is one of the several different types of migraines. There are two major types migraines, with many different subtypes, which make for at least seven distinct migraine diagnoses and treatments.
  • Doctor’s don’t always make accurate diagnoses: Because of the different kinds of migraine out there, it is difficult for doctors to make accurate diagnoses. The only reason Dr. Martin felt able to make an accurate diagnosis was because the symptoms he witnessed on camera matched those in Branson’s family medical history. If you suffer from migraine, then, it may be a good idea to get a second opinion.
  • Conservative Treatments Don’t Always Work: While we all hope pharmaceuticals or lifestyle changes could fix all migraines, there are many instances when these options aren’t effective. The treatment plan prescribed to you may not actually treat the problem. For this reason, it is necessary to explore a variety of options when it comes to treating your migraine.

Branson’s follow-up interview one year after her complex migraine, fortunately, caught national attention and (also) went viral. The reporter now speaks for a migraine advocacy group, and champions a treatment plans including lifestyle changes and pharmaceuticals. She also gets regular check-ups with Dr. Andrew Charles, Luskin Chair in Migraine and Headache Studies at UCLA.

While already learning much from Branson’s experience, her dedication in raising awareness about migraine shows how much there is still to learn regarding migraine: and understand.


  1. “What really happened to Serene Branson full interview.” YouTube. Accessed October 10, 2016.
  2. Coleman, Michael John, and Terri Miller Burchfield. “Migraines: Myth Vs. Reality – An Understanding of Migraine Disease & Tips for Migraine Management.” Migraine Awareness Group: A National Understanding for Migraineurs. Accessed October 10, 2016.
  3. Dumas, Pala K. “7 Types of Migraine: Which Do You Have?” Migraine Again. Accessed October 10, 2016.
  4. “A Year Later, CBS2 Reporter Serene Branson Looks Back On Her On-Air Medical Emergency.” CBS Los Angeles. Accessed October 10, 2016.


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