Conquering Epilepsy: Jessie Lentz Thanks Jefferson – and Martial Arts – for Saving Her Life

When Jefferson emergency room technician Jesse Lentz, EDT, recently found herself challenged with epilepsy-related health issues she experienced first-hand the high caliber of Emergency, Critical Care, and Neuroscience patient care Jefferson offers.

woman smiling in front of Chinese lantern

Jefferson ER tech Jessie Lentz

Since being diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005 and receiving treatment at Jefferson, she has had significant health trials but has persevered – leading up to her pursuing the grueling training and testing to achieve her first-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do.

Here is an account written by Jessie, entitled “How Jefferson — and Martial Arts — Saved My Life”

This summer, I achieved the rank of first-degree black belt in the Korean martial art of Tang Soo Do. Last summer, I didn’t know if I was going to survive a seizure-induced stroke.

My story actually begins in 2005, when I was diagnosed with epilepsy. After receiving the proper treatment and medication from the neurological team at Jefferson, I was able to live my life as usual.

Unfortunately, in June 2011, I went into status epilepticus (an epileptic seizure lasting more than five minutes) while I was at work. Once I recovered, I spoke to Dr. Michael Sperling, Director at the Jefferson Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, who told me that surgery was the best option if I wanted to halt these seizures completely.

On July 12, 2011, I had my right arterial temporal lobe removed by Dr. Ashwini D. Sharan at Jefferson. After the surgery, I no longer experienced seizures and was able to live my life once again.

In September 2013, I started my martial arts journey. I wanted to learn how to defend myself, get in better shape, and challenge myself to try something that I had always wanted to do. My instructors were aware of my history of epilepsy, and worked with me every step of the way.

Since the surgery in 2011, I was working a full-time job, meeting up with friends on a regular basis, and training harder than ever in Tang Soo Do. Nothing was stopping me from living the life I wanted to live.

However, on July 4, 2016, things would take another turn as a result of my epilepsy.

That morning, I was working my shift in the Jefferson Emergency Department when I experienced a grand mal seizure. Thanks to the quick thinking of my coworker, ER nurse Jamie Petkovic, I was carried to a team of doctors and nurses who promptly saved my life.

I was in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for a day, then moved to the epilepsy monitoring unit for seizure monitoring. While in the EMU, I was given an MRI that revealed that I had suffered a massive stroke. (It’s believed to have been the result of the multiple seizures I had taken that day). From there, I was moved to Jefferson Hospital for Neuroscience (JHN), then back to the NICU for a week before being discharged from JHN on July 12, 2016.

The stroke left me weak on my left side, and I walked with a limp. Because of my condition, I had to put my journey to black belt on hold. This didn’t discourage me from practicing my art at home, however; after completing physical therapy while in the hospital, I regained coordination on my left side by practicing my favorite self-defense weapon, nunchucks, in my living room. Gradually, the limp went away, too, as I resumed my everyday activities.

After months of follow-ups and more scans, I was able to go return to my full-time job, and ultimately, resume my Tang Soo Do training. Due to my epileptic episode, I had to push back my black belt test from December 2016 to June 2017. While I was initially disappointed, it fueled me to work hard and put the events of that summer behind me for good.

In June 2017, I completed a two-and-a-half hour test of stamina and endurance, followed by a three-mile run, for my first-degree black belt in Tang Soo Do. It was grueling, but I passed my test and was rewarded with a first-degree black belt tied around my waist.

During the belt promotion ceremony, I did a flying side kick through a board that read EPILEPSY. It was a metaphor for everything I had endured because of my condition, and how I kept going in spite of it.

Woman with blackbelt doing a flying kick to break a board with the word "Epilepsy" written on it

“Every time epilepsy knocks her down, she kicks it right back again,” said Jessie’s Emergency Department coworker Jennifer Potchen, RN

In the span of a year, I went from feeling like I lost everything to regaining everything (and achieving more, now I’m continuing to build my stamina by pursuing my second-degree black belt.)

If it wasn’t for my incredible co-workers and the caring doctors and nurses at Jefferson, I don’t know if I’d be able to tell this story with such a happy ending today.

As for martial arts, it’s not only allowed me to get fit and defend myself, it’s also saved my life. The coordination and healthy habits I developed as a result of doing Tang Soo Do allowed me to recover successfully from the stroke. I am grateful to my instructors and classmates for all of their help pre-and post-seizure.

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