By Shannine O’Neill


THIS INSPIRATIONAL woman was left with half a skull for five months after a simple sinus infection led to a brain tumour but has now turned her life around and teaches martial arts and given birth to a baby boy.

Martial Arts Instructor Natasha Gunther Santana (26) from San Jose, California, USA had four brain surgeries that led to half of her skull being removed for five months – that all came from a seemingly innocuous sinus infection.

In 2021, Natasha would suffer from five separate sinus infections and would take antibiotics every time to clear the infection.

On her last sinus infection, the antibiotics didn’t seem to work and so she was ordered for a CT scan and saw that she had immunodeficiency PRKCD mutation which meant that the antibiotics weren’t working for her infection anymore.

Once they realised this, the hospital staff sent her straight to Stanford Immunology Clinic that same night.

Natasha knew the antibiotics were no longer working, as she felt no better from when she began taking them, she was constantly vomiting, having severe migraines and started to become angry and irrational, which was very different to her normal demeanour.

The medical professionals realised that Nastasha had a brain abscess from the sinus infection, which meant she needed a temporal craniotomy on December 13, 2021.

Complications grew for Natasha after the surgery, as she had acute deep vein thrombosis and a seizure, causing her to stay in the hospital for even longer and have seven surgeries in total, four brain surgeries and three sinus surgeries.

After her last brain surgery, Natasha was left with half of her skull removed, which caused her to have to wear a helmet to protect the part of her skull that was missing for five months.

Natasha also had to learn to walk and talk again through intense therapy, which she owes to it all being possible because of her husband’s support at the time, which without, she admits, she would not have been able to get through alone.

For five months, Natasha was forced to wear her helmet and was told by medical staff not to view herself in the mirror because she would be so shocked at the difference she saw.

Natasha recovering after her four brain surgeries.

The recovery was excruciating and intense, but the trauma Natasha felt during this time made the recovery process that much more difficult, as she would be terrified to leave the house in case someone bumped into her and caused further damage to her fragile skull.

It took Natasha over a year to overcome her terror of being around people, but she received huge support from her husband Joao (32) who is also a martial arts instructor and son, Raiden, who is seven-months old.


The swelling on Natasha’s skull went down after two months, but she is now left with a scar that goes all the way around her skull to her ear, as well as a small indent on the left side of her ear.

“It was a sinus infection that spread to my brain,” she said.

“I had five sinus infections in 2021, and would take antibiotics like normal treatment.

“On my last sinus infection the medication didn’t work, they did a CT scan and saw what needed to be done and was rushed to Stanford for emergency surgery that night at midnight.

Natasha with her skull cap.

“On my last sinus infection, a week after I finished the antibiotics I felt nothing different. At that point in time I also was not myself.

“When you have a brain tumour you can change personality. I became a different person, was very angry and mad at the world and wasn’t myself.”

Natasha felt incredibly insecure and depressed when wearing her helmet for five months and couldn’t even bring herself to look in the mirror until January, 2022.

“I wore a helmet and tried my best not to go outside. I went out of the house for doctor visits and maybe less than five times out to places like the mall,” she said.

“I’d wear my helmet and a hoodie so people couldn’t see it. It’s extremely scary.

“I was also very traumatised and afraid of people walking by and accidentally bumping into me. It took me about a year to get over the trauma and fear of being hit by someone by accident.

“I felt very insecure and it made me extremely depressed.

On their wedding day.

“When I was in the hospital for a month and a week, I didn’t even look at myself until January of 2022. They didn’t let me look in a mirror because they knew I wasn’t ready for the change.”

Although Natasha has been through an extremely traumatic experience, she has come out on the other side with a more positive mindset and a wonderful life with her husband and baby boy, Raiden, as well as teaching martial arts again as she did before her ordeal.

“I have a beautiful baby boy named Raiden, my husband and I are about to celebrate our one year wedding anniversary,” she said.

“I’m teaching martial arts again. Life is beautiful.

“I have had headaches every day since, that hasn’t gone away.

“I’ve come to terms that this is my new normal and I’m just happy to be alive.

“If you have a sinus infection, and have more than three a year, get a head CT and see a specialist. It could save your life.”