PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- A Philadelphia woman is fighting epilepsy with martial arts, a way to also improve fitness while reducing stress and anxiety. For Jessie Lentz, it's giving her a special kind of independence.
Lentz says martial arts have been a lifesaver for her.
"I wanted to be able to defend myself," she said, "and fell in love with it."
Lentz is an emergency department technician at Jefferson Hospital. Not only can she defend herself now because of this training, but she says it also helps keep seizures under control.
A bout with viral meningitis led to Lentz being diagnosed with epilepsy in 2005.
"What people need to know is that it's common," Dr. Michael Sperling, neurologist, said. "It's one of the most common neurological conditions that exist," "Often, the cause is not known."
Sperling, the director of the Jefferson Epilepsy Center, says seizures from epilepsy can often be controlled by medications.
That didn't work for Lentz.
"My seizures started to get worse in 2009," she said.
Lentz ended up having brain surgery to control the seizures. That worked for a while and then she had a massive stroke.
"Due to martial arts, I was able to keep my left side," she said.
She says she's been able to overcome weakness from the stroke with her workouts that do not involve any head contact and it helps her control stress, which can keep the seizures in check.
"Anything that involves training, developing of skills developing, self-confidence is good psychologically," Sperling said, "and it's useful."
Sperling, who's Lentz's doctor, says people with seizure disorders need to check with their own doctor before trying any new exercise.
It's been a winner for Lentz, who has a tattoo that says, "I was only given this life because I'm strong enough to live it."
"I never thought I would go this far, I thought I would get the first degree and I'm done," she said, "but I fell in love with it. And now I am a third-degree black belt."
Sperling says there's no science showing martial arts directly impact epilepsy, but staying in shape with controlled movements can be beneficial to overall health and helps with stress.
November is National Epilepsy Awareness Month, recognizing the 3.5 million Americans living with the condition, which includes about half a million children.
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