Former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen knows firsthand the work that goes into providing at-home cardiology care for a young child.
His 10-year-old son TJ was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome and underwent a heart transplant two summers ago. The congenital heart defect affects normal blood flow.
Now, Olsen and his family are using their foundation, The HEARTest Yard, to ensure other families facing similar situations have the needed resources once they are discharged from the hospital.
Olsen presented a $300,000 check to MUSC’s Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital on July 28 to assist pediatric cardiology patients and their families with the transition between the hospital and home care. The proceeds came from the foundation’s second Celebrity Classic golf tournament held this month at the Kiawah Island Club, where Olsen is a member.
Part of Olsen’s time at the Medical University of South Carolina this week included a tour of the children’s hospital, where he got to meet three young heart patients, who are close in age to when TJ had his transplant.
“Just to be able to see those kids, smiles on their faces, the little bit of the fear and anxiety in the parents’ eyes about what is the unknown, what’s to come — you know, brings back a lot of memories,” Olsen said.
The HEARTest Yard started in 2012 in Charlotte as an outpatient, in-home nursing program and has since expanded to Charleston. When the patients would be discharged from the hospital, the foundation would set up a team of nurses and administrators to help with the transition.
Olsen said when in the ICU, children receive care from doctors and nurses around the clock and parents can just be mom and dad.
But then they return home.
“And as exciting as that was, now you’re not only mom and dad, you’re caretaker,” Olsen said.
That can include taking vital signs and keeping logs of food intake, weight gain and saturation levels — all of which Olsen said was overwhelming when TJ was recovering at home.
“That was really the inspiration of The HEARTest Yard and bringing these specialists and therapists and nurses and whatnot into the home entirely as a health benefit,” Olsen said.
This month’s donation is the second one from the foundation. It will help supplement the work already started at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, according to Dr. Andy Atz, chair of the department of pediatrics.
Atz said that while there is a huge team of nurses, doctors and other care team members at the hospital, patient care couldn’t be achieved without the support of the families.
Congenital heart defects are among the top birth defects in the United States. They affect one in every 100 children, Atz said. While not many of them require treatment in the first year of life, specialized centers like the one at MUSC are built for children who do.
“We built this hospital with a family-centric idea. We involved families,” Atz said. “And congenital heart disease is not just a patient story, it is a family story.”
The HEARTest Yard has plans to expand their partnership with MUSC in the years to come, according to Olsen.