Trent’s story: Brain surgery ‘saved my life’

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

By: Femi Cole

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It was the first snowfall of 2016, the week before final exams, and a night spent out with friends.


It was a night that changed Trent Knuppel’s life.


The 20-year-old was walking home to his apartment in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, with some friends when he noticed one of his friends falling behind.


“He’s down on the ground, kind of kneeling. Like 10 or 15 seconds later, he sprints past us and runs to our house. He’s laughing as he’s running past us,” Trent says.


That’s the last he remembers from that night.


Trent later learned his friend was running past them because he had thrown a snowball at a passing car. He’d thrown it at the wrong car. The men in the car got out of the car and approached Trent first. One of the men struck Trent in the forehead with a beer bottle. Trent fell and was knocked unconscious.


The men got in their car and left, and Trent’s friends called 911. An ambulance brought him to Aurora Medical Center in Oshkosh. There, a CAT, or CT, scan showed Trent’s brain was swelling and there was blood covering the brain, a condition known as a subdural hematoma. Surgery seemed likely. Then another ambulance ride, this time to Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay.


Dr. Wesley Griffitt, a BayCare Clinic neurosurgeon, was waiting there with his team, ready for action.


“When he got here, he was substantially worse than when he had left the other facility and it was obvious he needed surgery right away,” Griffitt says.


Griffitt immediately took Trent into surgery for a craniotomy.  


“We make a skin incision over the scalp and take off a piece of bone over the blood. The plan is to take the blood out,” Griffitt says. “When we got there, though, we found out there was a lot more blood, there was some bruising in the brain that wasn’t present on the first CAT scan, and there was a lot more brain swelling.”


Griffitt and his team worked fast. They took out a second piece of bone from the same area, took out extra blood, and put in a tube to help drain spinal fluid and monitor the pressure in his brain.


Trent Knuppel spent 11 days in a coma after brain surgery.


Trent spent 11 days in a coma. That allowed time for his body and brain to heal.


“We knew the swelling was going to get worse before it got better,” Griffitt says. He didn’t know how long Trent would be in the coma.


But after eight days, Trent started breathing on his own.


On the 11th day, Trent woke up and started making a miraculous recovery. He passed cognitive and physical tests with ease.


“I really had no trouble at all. It was difficult as far as my legs went. Walking, standing, that was a little shaky at first because I’m lying in a coma for 11 days. … I’ve always been an athlete growing up, so I think that helped,” he says. “Muscle memory probably helped with these physical examinations.”


His quick recovery amazed the medical staff.


“Since it was right around Christmas, they joked that I was the Christmas miracle of the hospital,” Trent says.


On Day 16, Trent went home to Greenville, where his family lives. He came back to Green Bay a month later so Griffitt could replace the part of his skull that had been removed during surgery.


“The swelling had gone down enough and he was doing well enough. … We had a custom piece of, sort of, plastic made that’s designed for this that’s a perfect contour for his skull,” Griffitt says. “We put this new skull on and secured that in place.”


Having survived a traumatic brain injury, Trent says he’s doing fine and owes that to Griffitt. Trent took his spring semester off from school to recover and is set to graduate in May 2020.


“I don’t really have any long-term effects or long-term difficulties with the injuries,” he says. “Dr. Griffitt was extremely helpful, first and foremost, with the surgeries he performed and kind of saved my life … I appreciated the advice he gave me. He just told me it’s going to be tough, but it’ll be OK.”


Dr. Wesley Griffitt sees patients in Green Bay and in Sturgeon Bay. To request an appointment, call 920-288-8350 in Green Bay or 888-376-3876 in Sturgeon Bay or do so online.

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BayCare Clinic,, is the largest physician-owned specialty-care clinic in northeastern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It is based in Green Bay, Wisconsin. BayCare Clinic offers expertise in more than 20 specialties, with more than 100 physicians serving in 16 area communities. BayCare Clinic is a joint partner in Aurora BayCare Medical Center, a 167-bed, full-service hospital. Follow BayCare Clinic on Facebook and Twitter.