CHARLOTTE, North Carolina – Many know their names, their stories, and have supported their families through good and bad.
Since birth, TJ Olsen, son of former Carolina Panther Greg Olsen, has undergone several open heart surgeries. Over the summer he received a new heart.
His parents spoke to Channel 9’s DaShawn Brown about how their little boy was their source of strength – a strength that got them through it all together.
âWe always knew with TJ’s condition, in the way they reconfigured his heart, that a heart transplant was inevitable at some point,â said Greg Olsen. âThe initial speech was 20 years old, 30 years old. We thought he would be an adult.
You could almost compare their journey to a spectrum, with a full range of ups and downs, dark days and bursts of color.
âWe each had our times when we were weak, and then we had our times when we were strong, and we kind of felt all of those emotions again this year,â said Kara Olsen.
Before TJ was born, his parents knew that the life of their youngest son and twin would be different.
âThe cardiologist walked in and we could tell he had a pretty significant look of concern on his face. He told us that the baby who would eventually become TJ would be born with a very serious congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, âsaid Greg Olsen. “The whole time he broke the news to us, we would wait for him to say, ‘But don’t worry, we can fix it.'”
By the time TJ was eight, he had already had three open heart surgeries – the first, a few days after birth.
The Olsens knew the day would come when TJ needed a new heart. They had hoped it would be at least 20 years later. Instead, it happened this year, when his changed heart began to fail.
âThat night I put them to bed and he said, ‘Mom, I’m having trouble breathing.’ And I’m like, ‘It’s not OK.’ I immediately texted our cardiologist, “Kara Olsen said.” So they echoed on him. They didn’t say anything, but when we went back to his room to meet the doctors, they did. games. One of the nurses we know very well made a bunch of games, and right away, at that point … “
The Olsens’ journey through organ transplantation has begun.
But the family said TJ remained optimistic the entire time.
âHe’s the one going through this. And he gives us such strength because he’s so positive. Everything is positiveâ¦ and it just made every day fun, âsaid Kara Olsen.
âIt really was. Sometimes he would forgetâ¦ And you had to take a second and say to yourself, âOh wait, we’re sitting in a hospital waiting for a heart transplant,â said Greg Olsen.
They waited seven days while the community gathered. Then came the night they heard the news as Charlotte’s skyline sparkled lime green to honor organ transplant awareness – ironically, TJ’s favorite color.
âWe couldn’t tell anyone, but the doctor said to come in. I think it was two in the afternoon. They came as a team and I was like, ‘OK, why did they all come in?’ “Said Kara Olsen.
Greg Olsen posted a video on his Instagram as TJ told his siblings he had a new heart.
âOur story is not unique. There are thousands and thousands of people across the country who, in essence, have the exact same story as us. We just realize that our story comes with a little more ability to spread it and use it for good, and we feel very determined to build on it, âsaid Greg Olsen.
For almost a decade, they have been doing this through their non-profit organization, HEARTest Yard, which provides access to services such as private nursing and therapy. More recently they have built a world class facility.
âThe only reason we can do these events, the only reason we are able to build these new facilities at Levine Children’s and continue to expand the program offerings that they have in their programs, is because to support people in the community. Specifically, the community of Charlotte, in the way they surround not only our family, not just our history, but our purpose and mission to serve this region, âsaid Greg Olsen.
On November 1, the HEARTest Yard is hosting its annual Fitness Festival at the Atrium Dome, near the Panthers’ training ground.
Fundraising features a mix of fitness classes, a block party, and shopping with local vendors. One hundred percent of proceeds help support families and children born with congenital heart disease and are treated at Levine Children’s Hospital. Click here for Register now.
(SEE BELOW: âThat gives us a lot of purposeâ: The Olsen family talks about the HEARTest Yard initiative)
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