CHARLOTTE – Panthers tight end Greg Olsen had been looking forward to the Panthers’ bye week with both anticipation and anxiety, knowing he would become the father of twins but knowing that one of the twins would be born with a serious heart condition.
Now, after a stressful but successful few days, Olsen can start the process of turning his attention back to football.
“It was nice to come back in here today, run around and get back in the swing of things,” Olsen said Monday. “It felt good to get back to reality a little bit.
“It’s been a hard week, but it’s been a good week.”
Since last Tuesday, Olsen’s life has been an unending series of ups and downs, but the prognosis for son T.J. is looking up.
T.J. had his chest closed Monday morning at Levine Children’s Hospital at Carolina Medical Center, four days after undergoing open-heart surgery to treat hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a rare condition discovered by doctors early in Kara Olsen’s pregnancy.
“He is a strong baby,” Dr. Benjamin B. Peeler, Chief of Pediatric and Adult Congenital Cardiothoracic Surgery at Levine, said in a statement. “His postoperative course thus far has been very smooth; however, this is a high-risk condition as well as a high-risk surgical procedure. The postoperative course can be unpredictable and complicated.
“Our team continues to care for T.J. very closely in the cardiac intensive care unit. We are very hopeful that T.J.’s recovery will continue on the same smooth course. The average time in the hospital after the Norwood procedure is about 40 days.”
While twin sister Talbot is now home, T.J. is expected to make Levine home for at least three weeks. After making it through the most dangerous of three surgeries – the Norwood procedure has a 75-percent survival rate – T.J. will undergo a second surgery at six months of age and a final one around his third birthday.
“We’re very fortunate for the care that he’s been able to get, and he’s responded really well to the multiple procedures they’ve done,” Olsen said. “We’re very blessed that he responded the way he did. The doctors at Levine’s have been incredible. We just continue to hope and pray that everything continues to progress as it has the first few days.
“We know he has a long road ahead of him – this is just the first of a few procedures that he’ll have – but he handled the first one really well. That gives us a lot of hope going forward.”
The support shown the Olsens has extended well beyond the hospital walls.
“It’s been incredible – the amount of emails, the letters to my house,” Olsen said. “The guys on the team organized two months of food for us to eat every single night of the week. Steve (Smith) and his wife organized it, and guys volunteered to send food over. It’s been incredible.
“Mr. (Jerry) Richardson came over, Coach (Ron) Rivera, Chud (offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski), players. Everyone has come to see us, everyone has been there, saying, ‘Let me know if you need something.’ It really is a special community here.”
Smith, the elder statesmen of the team now in his 12th NFL season, said his wife, Angie, put together the feeding schedule.
“You’ve got a guy whose son is going to be in the hospital the next couple of weeks. You’ve got to deal with going back and forth, and they have two other kids,” Smith said. “It’s just what you do.”
While Kara Olsen is home with Talbot as well as 16-month-old son Tate, the family’s schedule is still stretched thin. Greg Olsen slept at the hospital the first four nights but has since returned home to help his wife get back on her feet.
“Mom’s doing real good. She’s unbelievably strong – you don’t carry around two eight-pound babies for 37 weeks if you’re not,” Olsen said. “Once she’s back to herself, a couple of nights a week I’ll go after practice and stay there (at the hospital) with T.J. just to make sure he feels that presence and knows somebody is there.
“In my mind, he knows when we’re there and when we’re not, so we’ll try to be there for him as much as we can.”