The will to survive: SC college student survives a traumatic brain injury with help from doctors

State - Regional

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – As a college student recovered from an accident that almost cost him his life, he and his family are celebrating the hard work of the medical team who saved him. 

Wilson Fennel and his parents want you to support research into the lifesaving treatments for people who suffer traumatic brain injuries.

It’s coming up on a year since Wilson Fennell lost control of his dirt bike and crashed into a tree on the family farm. He says the dirt was soft. The wheels couldn’t get traction.

“I was trying to turn, and it had rained the night before and wheels and stuff got caught in some leaves … I just smacked myself into a tree,” he recalled.

Scott Fennell, Wilson’s dad, remembers every detail of the accident. It was Thanksgiving Day – the family was together – they were preparing dinner.

“We were about to put the turkey in the fryer, and he was about to go and park it,’ he said. “I told him to slow down and he turned around and smacked the tree 20 yards in front of me.”

Wilson was medevacked to the Medical University of South Carolina where a team of top neurosurgeons worked on his brain.

The first surgery lasted more than 9 hours.

“The initial surgery at the time removed the damaged skull material which is about the size of my hand to relieve the pressure on this brain that was increasing,” he said.

Wilson was put in a medically induced coma until the swelling in his brain went down. But he was far from healed and underwent a second surgery which involved inserting six titanium plates around the center of his face. 

Neurosurgeons also made Wilson a 3D printed skull.

“The material came in and fit like a glove on the day Dr. Nathan Roland and Dr. Alex Marsden put it back in. Then he had another one later where he had a cranioplasty implant.”

Recovery has been long and difficult. Wilson underwent hours of rehabilitation and therapy at the Shepherd Center and the Shepherd Center Pathways Outpatient Rehabilitation Center, and Roper St. Francis. 

He also worked out with a personal trainer three times a week until he returned to Elon in late August. “We have just learned that every injury is different, every recovery is different. It is possible for someone to get through this process and live a normal life or a somewhat normal life.”

Wilson is living proof. He’s a student at Elon College, where he is supported academically and physically.

“Elon University in North Carolina. I’m really excited about that school they have been really great to me.”

Wilson’s words come more slowly than before the accident, but he has a lot to say about the skilled team in the department of neurology and neurosurgery who saved his life, giving him a second chance.

“I just want to say thank you to everyone at the Medical University of South Carolina and Roper St. Francis”

To learn more about MUSC’s Department of Neurology and the services they offer, please click here.


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