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Jentai Otremba is a fighter

Jentai Otremba strikes a karate pose during a class last Friday at Ignite Martial Arts in Hudson.

When Jacob Otremba suggested naming his first child after the female warrior in an old Super Nintendo game, he had no idea of how appropriate the name would become.

Now his seven-year-old daughter, Jentai, embodies much of the spirit of the video game heroine. She's full of energy. A fighter. And a survivor.

Jentai (pronounced Jen-tie) will receive her advanced brown belt in karate next month, five years after being diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and two and a half years since her last chemotherapy treatment.

"It surprises people when we mention something about her past," says Jentai's mother, Jo.

No one suspects that the lively girl with the bounce in her step and sparkle in her eye was in a fight for her life a few years earlier.

When Jentai was 2, she experienced bloating in her stomach that for a month was diagnosed as gastroenteritis. Jo found Jentai with her legs pointed straight upward, because her skin was stretched so tight by her enlarged stomach, after being awakened by her cries at 3 o'clock one morning.

A trip to the emergency room brought another diagnosis of gastroenteritis. Jo, who was pregnant with her son, Kyan, decided to see her obstetrician out of fear that Jentai had a contagious illness that could affect her pregnancy.

Jo's obstetrician said she couldn't be dealing with the stress of a sick child, and that they'd find out what was wrong with Jentai before they left the hospital. The first blood test revealed the leukemia, according to Jo.

For the next six months, Jentai was in and out of Children's Hospital of St. Paul for periods of a week at a time. It was during that stretch that she received the heaviest doses of chemotherapy.

Later, the chemo treatments became less frequent and dwindled down to pills at the end. She took her last chemo pill age 5.

The chemotherapy also attacked the tendons in Jentai's ankles, requiring her to have physical therapy and wear plastic braces inside her shoes.

When she was still 3, her parents took advantage of a one-month-free offer and enrolled her in a preschool karate program with Ignite Martial Arts of Hudson.

"We decided she needed something to be active -- some normalcy," Jo says.

After a month of karate lessons, Jentai went to a physical therapy appointment and amazed the therapists.

"What have you guys been doing?" Jo remembers being asked. Jentai's gait had returned to normal and her range of motion was much improved. The therapists said she would need only one or two more sessions.

"So we just basically used this for physical therapy," Jo said while waiting for Jentai's karate class to start last Friday afternoon.

Jentai progressed through the levels of the preschool program six months ahead of schedule. At 4, she began the regular children's program that most start at 5 or 6.

She is on track to getting her black belt in about a year, which would make her one of the youngest to reach that level at Ignite Martial Arts.

"To get to this point is no easy task for a seven-year-old. Most of the students at Ignite Martial Arts that are at her level tower over her, ranging from age 8 to adult," Jo Otremba said in an email informing the Star-Observer of her daughter's accomplishments.

Jentai's memory, physical ability and dedication have helped her succeed at the discipline, according to her mother.

Ignite Martial Arts recently spotlighted Jentai on the school's Facebook page as a positive influence.

She is a second-grader in Adam Wert's classroom at E.P. Rock Elementary School.

Her father works for Hudson Baking Co. and her mother is employed at the Hudson Target store.

Jentai's battle with leukemia was quite an ordeal for a young family to go through, Jo acknowledges.

"Lots of help," she replies when asked how they were able to afford the medical bills and other expenses. Friends and family held a benefit for them.

"Scary," is how Jentai describes the experience.

Her mother says she is just now learning more about the disease she had. On a recent trip to County Market, Jentai noticed a brat sale for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and insisted that they make a purchase.

"I don't know if it is her past that has made her this way, but I have noticed that she has a lot more empathy toward others than most kids," Jo says. "She tends to care about fights at school between other people. She wants it stopped."

Jentai's prognosis is good, her mother says.

"She's two and a half years in remission with no signs of relapse at all."

Jentai's oncologists and head nurse from Children's Hospital have stayed in touch with her -- some even coming to her karate school graduations.

"(They) have been nothing but floored with each checkup as they see her progress both on and off the mat," Jo says. "They have insisted that we get her story shared at the community."

Jentai's head instructor at Ignite Martial Arts is Kristen Rolfven. The school, owned by Diane Gobran, is temporarily located 1301 Gateway Circle, near the Menards store. It will be moving to the strip mall on Hanley Road at Carmichael, next to the Aldi store.

Randy Hanson

Randy Hanson has reported for the Star-Observer since 1997. He came to Hudson after 11 years with the Inter-County Leader at Frederic, and eight years of teaching social studies. He’s a graduate of UW-Eau Claire.

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