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.
“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.”
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
“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!”
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.”