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From Trauma Center to State Basketball Champ

Last updated: June 5, 2024

A little more than 100 days after a head-on car crash, Emmitt Konieczny, celebrated winning the Division 5 Wisconsin state basketball tournament. Just months before that incredible moment, he was sitting in a hospital bed at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah.

“I just knew this is how it was supposed to end,” Emmitt Konieczny says. “And I knew we were going to have quite a story to tell.”

Harrowing Scene

On Nov. 30, 2023, Emmitt and his mother, Jen, were on their way to Lakeland University in Sheboygan when a car crossed the centerline and hit their car, head-on.

“I never lost consciousness, so I was aware of everything that was going on as people were coming to help us,” Jen says. “I could feel that my ankle was pretty badly injured. I was just worried about Emmitt.”

Emmitt lost consciousness after the crash. First responders were worried about a potential head injury. ThedaStar transported Emmitt to ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah. Meanwhile, a team transported Jen to a hospital in Sheboygan for treatment of ankle and shoulder injuries.

“I assumed we would be going to the same place, but I knew he needed a higher level of care,” Jen says. “As a mother, it was frightening. I was worried about him being all alone in the hospital until my husband could get to him.”

Care teams at ThedaCare stayed in constant contact with Jen.

“Everyone was so compassionate about the situation,” she says. “They had a clear understanding about what was taking place. They were very accommodating, and I appreciate that.”

Emergency Surgery

Once at Neenah, teams determined that Emmitt did not have a head injury. However, shortly after, he began having severe abdominal pains and vomiting. Tests revealed internal bleeding. Emmitt suffered lacerated intestines after the crash, and he would need emergency surgery.

“I remember them telling me that I had to go in for surgery,” Emmitt says. “And I remember saying, ‘Let’s get this show on the road.’ It was just hurting so bad, and I wanted to feel some relief.”

The star athlete also worried about missing his next basketball game. Emmitt, who lives in the Marshfield area with his family, says he didn’t understand the severity of his injuries at the time. He was just thinking about his team.

Before the surgery, Emmitt’s father, Joe, arrived at the hospital. The family says that Joe, who is also Emmitt’s basketball coach, was nervous about the surgery. He found comfort from ThedaCare teams, including social workers, who provided support.

Dr. Kara Vande Walle, a general and trauma surgeon with ThedaCare and Surgical Associates of Neenah, performed the surgery.

“As a validated leader in caring for patients with trauma-related injuries, ThedaCare’s trauma program provides the highest-quality care for patients, like Emmitt, whenever they need it,” Dr. Vande Walle says.

The surgery went well, and Emmitt began his road to recovery — one that would lead him to the state basketball championship.

Determined to Play

After surgery, Emmitt spent four days in the hospital. By Dec. 1, he could get out of bed, but it was difficult to even walk around the hospital floor.

Emmitt asked the doctors and his dad if he could play basketball again. Care teams explained he would need to miss some of the basketball season.

“I was devastated at first,” Emmitt says. “The doctors told me it would be two months initially. I was just worried about the team.”

For a great player — with big aspirations for his senior season — time away from the court was difficult to accept.

“I asked my dad if I would be able to play again,” Emmitt says. “He told me I would play again and that we were going to win a state tournament. I laughed and said, ‘OK, let’s do it. Let’s win the state tournament.’”

Recovery Process

Emmitt began his recovery. He started slowly, jogging and running on his own. Then he eventually started playing basketball again with some restrictions.

“He was motivated to get back on the court,” Jen says. “He’s always been that kind of player. He’s always thinking about others and about his teammates.”

Emmitt missed nine games. After he returned to the court, he remembered his dad’s uplifting words: It was time to win a championship.

“After I returned and played, I wasn’t nervous,” Emmitt says. “It’s crazy that an experience like this could change me as a player. I just wanted to go out there, play, and have fun. And that’s what we did.”

Emmitt and his younger brother, Mac, play for their dad at Columbus Catholic High School in Marshfield. They made their way through the tournament and to the final game. Emmitt fulfilled his goal of winning — and more. He scored 31 points, tied the D5 state record for most 3-pointers and went 10-for-10 from the free throw line.

“It was a dream come true for me,” he says. “After everything that happened, I’m just so grateful I had the opportunity to play again.”

Close-to-Home Care

Emmitt received care at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah for four days after the accident. During those moments, the family said they had full faith in doctors and care teams.

“Nurses were always there to help,” Jen says. “They kept Emmitt comfortable. As parents, we appreciate that.”

ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah is one of nine adult Level II trauma centers in Wisconsin. ThedaCare has maintained its Level II Trauma Center verification since 1998.

“With any trauma, minutes matter,” Dr. Vande Walle says. “Treating severely injured patients throughout northeast and central Wisconsin at ThedaCare — instead of transferring them out of the area — has saved countless lives. ThedaCare is proud to provide our communities access to this advanced level of trauma care.”

As Emmitt’s family reflects on the last few months, they say they’re grateful for close-to-home care and to caregivers for their quick action.

“We were hours away from our home near Marshfield when everything took place,” Jen says. “Coming from a rural area, we understand that people need to feel comfortable with the care that’s available to them. For loved ones and caregivers, it makes a huge difference. Not being from the area, it was frightening. Knowing Emmitt was going to a place with that high level of care, that was closer than Milwaukee or Madison, was comforting.”

For Emmitt, his hoop dreams will continue. In the fall, he’ll attend Lakeland University and play basketball.

Inspiration is everywhere.

Tags: Emmitt Konieczny ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah ThedaStar Trauma surgery

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