Martial arts teacher loses half her skull due to sinus infection

A California martial arts instructor had to have half her skull removed after an unchecked sinus infection metastasized throughout her brain. She detailed her cranial catastrophe in a harrowing video with over 7 million views on TikTok.

“Surgeons told me I would have been dead within a week if I hadn’t gone to the hospital when I did,” Natasha Gunther, 25, told News Dog Media of the harrowing ordeal.

A before-and-after video, captioned “Sometimes all you can do is laugh right?,” shows the long-haired karate enthusiast sitting in a car before surgery. It then cuts to a pic of the gal post-op, in which she sports a pronounced dent in her head where surgeons had to extract part of her cranium.

The fiasco began in late 2021 after the judo blackbelt reported to the doctor after experiencing an unusual uptick in sinus infections over the previous year.

“Surgeons told me I would have been dead within a week if I hadn't gone to the hospital when I did," said Natasha Gunther.
“Surgeons told me I would have been dead within a week if I hadn’t gone to the hospital when I did,” said Natasha Gunther.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther noticed an uptick in sinus infections last year.
Gunther noticed an uptick in sinus infections last year.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther's parents eventually forced their daughter to get a CT scan after she started "throwing up a lot and having horrible migraines."
Gunther’s parents eventually forced their daughter to get a CT scan after she started “throwing up a lot and having horrible migraines.”
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media

“I had about five to six of them,” explained Gunther, who usually only suffered from congestive afflictions once per year. She specifically suffered from sinusitis, a nasal ailment that occurs when there’s “irritation in your sinuses, which make up the lining around the air spaces between bones that surround your nose,” according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Unfortunately, neither she nor the doctor thought it was serious at the time, and they prescribed her a course of antibiotics — the standard treatment for the condition.

“As most people who get sinus infections will know, you don’t think anything of them, and neither did my usual doctor,” Gunther said of the seemingly innocuous blockage. “I teach martial arts to kids, so I’m used to getting colds.”

“In total, they removed around 12-14cm of my skull and put it into a freezer," said Gunther.
“In total, they removed 12-14 cm of my skull and put it into a freezer,” said Gunther.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther before and after her craniectomy.
Gunther before and after her craniectomy
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
The unfortunately judoka, who now has to wear a helmet to protect her unprotected brain, hopes to get the skull fragment refitted by April.
The unfortunately judoka, who now has to wear a helmet to protect her unprotected brain, hopes to get the skull fragment refitted by April.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther performs a kick on a mountain.
Gunther performs a kick on a mountain.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media

However, Gunther’s parents eventually forced their daughter to get a CT scan after she started “throwing up a lot and having horrible migraines.”

A subsequent craniotomy—where doctors remove a part of the skull to examine the brain—revealed a massive buildup of strep and staph infections, which had moved her brain nearly a half-inch to the right.

In order to relieve the pressure, doctors performed a more severe craniectomy later that month, in which they removed approximately half of Gunther’s skull.

Gunther thought nothing of the sinus infections at first.
Gunther thought nothing of the sinus infections at first.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Natasha Gunther, 25, who had half her skull removed because of a sinus infection, California, USA, pictured in February 2022.
The 25-year-old eventually had to have half her skull removed.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
The martial artist says she couldn't have undertaken the journey without the support of her family, particularly her boyfriend Joao, who is also a martial arts instructor.
The martial artist says she couldn’t have undertaken the journey without the support of her family, particularly her boyfriend, Joao, who is also a martial arts instructor.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
“If you have more than one sinus infection per year or even just a sinus infection, please go to the hospital or the ENT [Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic in the USA] just to be safe," she said.  “Please just don't rely on your primary doctor because it could be serious."
“If you have more than one sinus infection per year or even just a sinus infection, please go to the hospital or the [ear, nose and throat doctor] just to be safe,” she said. “Please just don’t rely on your primary doctor, because it could be serious.”
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media

“In total, they removed 12 to 14 cm of my skull and put it into a freezer,” said Gunther. “I stayed in the hospital for another five weeks, and also had further sinus surgery.”

The unfortunate judoka, who now has to wear a helmet to protect her unshielded brain, hopes to get the skull fragment refitted by April. If this fails, doctors will be forced to 3-D print a replica of the component and insert that instead.

Needless to say, the medical ordeal has made life difficult for Gunther.

Gunther, 25, with her boyfriend Joao.
Gunther with boyfriend Joao
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Joao is currently helping Gunther with physical therapy.
Joao is currently helping Gunther with physical therapy.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther in the hospital where she underwent an emergency neurosurgery to have half her skull removed.
Gunther in the hospital where she underwent emergency neurosurgery to have half her skull removed
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther with her parents Marty and Nicole.
Gunther with her parents, Nicole and Marty
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media

“My life is very different to what it used to be,” lamented the taekwondo practitioner. “I used to have a busy life teaching martial arts and hanging out with friends every day – like any person in their 20s.”

But “when I came out of surgery, I struggled to talk, so I’ve been having regular speech therapy since then.”

The martial artist says she couldn’t have undertaken the journey without the support of her family, particularly her boyfriend, Joao, who is also a martial arts instructor.

“My life is very different from what it used to be," lamented the taekwondo practitioner. "I used to have a busy life teaching martial arts and hanging out friends every day – like any person in their twenties."
“My life is very different to what it used to be,” lamented the taekwondo practitioner. “I used to have a busy life teaching martial arts and hanging out with friends every day – like any person in their 20s.”
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
A CT scan revealed a bacterial buildup that had displaced part of Gunther's brain.
A CT scan revealed a bacterial buildup that had displaced part of Gunther’s brain.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
In order to relieve the pressure, doctors performed a full craniectomy later that month, in which they removed approximately half of the patient's skull.
In order to relieve the pressure, doctors performed a craniectomy later that month, in which they removed approximately half of Gunther’s skull.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther with Joao at the hospital.
Gunther with Joao at the hospital
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media

Gunther recently uploaded a video of her embracing her faithful beau with the caption, “My rock through this part of life.”

She says Joao “has been doing a lot psychical therapy so I can get my energy back in my body.” However, the gal claims that certain martial arts moves such as grappling “will be too risky for me to ever do again.”

“But I’m staying positive and I try to have a sense of humor about everything,” explained Gunther, who is currently trying to spread awareness on how harmless-seeming sinus infections can snowball out of control.

Gunther has to wear a helmet to protect his brain.
Gunther has to wear a helmet to protect his brain.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther practicing martial arts in the days before her life-changing operation.
Gunther practiced martial arts in the days before his life-changing operation.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Gunther will have to forgo grappling and other arts due to her condition.
Gunther will have to forgo grappling and other close-contact arts due to her condition.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
Sinisitus usually resolves on its own or with the help of antibiotics, dangerous complications can arise if it reaches the eyes or brain.
Sinusitis usually resolves on its own or with the help of antibiotics, but dangerous complications can arise if it reaches the eyes or brain.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media

“If you have more than one sinus infection per year, or even just at sinus infection, please go to the hospital or the [ear, nose and throat doctor] just to be safe,” she said. “Please just don’t rely on your primary doctor ,because it could be serious.”

Gunther added, “I don’t want anyone to go through what I did. I have half a head now and you can avoid that!”

"In rare cases, sinus infections in the rear center of one's head can spread into the brain," the Cleveland Clinic reported. "This can lead to life-threatening conditions like meningitis or brain abscess."
“In rare cases, sinus infections in the rear center of one’s head can spread into the brain,” the Cleveland Clinic reported. “This can lead to life-threatening conditions like meningitis or brain abscess.”
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
“But I'm staying positive and I try to have a sense of humor about everything," explained Gunther.
“But I’m staying positive and I try to have a sense of humor about everything,” explained Gunther.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media
“I don't want anyone to go through what I did.  I have half a head now and you can avoid that!”  said Gunther.
“I don’t want anyone to go through what I did. I have half a head now and you can avoid that!” said Gunther.
@natasha_gunther/News Dog Media

Indeed, while sinusitis usually resolves on its own or with the help of antibiotics, dangerous complications can arise if it reaches the eyes or brain.

“In rare cases, sinus infections in the rear center of one’s head can spread into the brain,” the Cleveland Clinic reported. “This can lead to life-threatening conditions like meningitis or brain abscess.”

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