How a San Jose martial arts instructor's remarkable skull removal recovery went TikTok viral

Lauren Martinez Image
Tuesday, August 8, 2023
How a SJ martial arts instructor's skull removal recovery went viral
Natasha Santana is inspiring others to keep fighting after a life-changing health scare where half of her skull was removed.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- A San Jose martial arts instructor went viral after sharing a life-changing health scare and is now inspiring others to keep fighting on.

Natasha Santana has been practicing martial arts for 21 years.

As an instructor at West Coast Martial Arts in Campbell, Santana said the sport isn't about the kicking or the punching - it's about the spiritual side.

The 26-year-old says it's what helped her recover after undergoing three brain surgeries.

In 2021 Santana explained she had six sinus infections. Antibiotics weren't helping and undenounced to Santana, the infection was traveling up her brain.

During the sixth sinus infection, Santana found out something was wrong.

"I went to urgent care on December 13th to get my normal round of antibiotics -that's what I thought - and because I had so many that year they said lets do a head CT just to check and I did the head CT and that's when they found out I had that huge 14-centimeter mass in my head growing," Santana said.

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Santana was then rushed to Stanford Hospital and had a craniotomy at 1 a.m.

Ten days later Santana had to undergo a craniotomy, where doctors removed half of her skull due to brain swelling.

"The craniotomy was when they removed the 14 centimeters in my skull and put it in a freezer for Stanford Hospital to hold onto up until April of next year," Santana said.

For four months Santana had to wear a helmet to protect her head. With her active lifestyle halted Santana wanted to use the free time to spread awareness about the importance of health.

In March of 2022, Santana shared a TikTok video viewed 1.6 million times.

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"I still have a lot of people that you know comment and say things like - 'oh wow I didn't know sinus infections could be that serious,' 'Oh wow I've had 5 sinus infections this year maybe I should go see a doctor' and I always respond to them- go see an ear, nose and throat doctor," Santana said.

She's now happy to share how important health is.

"I've seen a lot of kids that have gone through what I've gone through with all the brain surgeries and it's very traumatic and I just want people to understand just because you're young doesn't mean you can't get sick you know- not to be negative but, you know you got to take care of yourself," Santana said.

On April 11, 2022 Santana underwent a cranioplasty where her skull was replaced. It was right before that surgery Santana found out she was pregnant.

"I have a miracle baby boy named Raiden and he's about to be 8 months old now so time flies," Santana said.

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Now a year later with a baby boy, Santana is back on the mat. She teaches and trains with her husband at West Coast Martial Arts.

"For me to be back in the game, and to be back with people who I love is very important to me," Santana said.

The karate legend himself Ernie Reyes said Santana has a warrior spirit.

"She is an inspiration for me, I've got stage four cancer and I think about her all the time. So she's been my heart, soul and rock to keep fighting on," Santana said.

Santana is now training for her 5th degree black belt.

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