Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation

Former NFL star Greg Olsen’s charity highlights need for child cardiology care at MUSC

Even when Greg Olsen was a star player in the NFL, his family struggled to meet the demands of treatment after his son T.J. was born with a serious heart defect.

Now his family charity is extending help to others like them at Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital at Medical University of South Carolina.

Olsen’s charity, The HEARTest Yard, donated $300,000 on Aug. 15 to the hospital’s pediatric cardiology program. The proceeds came from its first Celebrity Classic golf tournament in June at the Kiawah Island Club, where Olsen is a member. South Street Partners, which owns the club, was a partner in the event.

Former NFL tight end and co-founder of The HEARTest Yard Greg Olsen walks down a hospital walkway with his son T.J. Olsen, 9, who was born with a serious heart defect, during a tour of the Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston on Aug. 15, 2022. Henry Taylor/Staff

T.J. Olsen, 9, who accompanied his father to make the donation, was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The defect occurs before birth when the left side of the heart doesn’t develop properly and it subverts the normal blood flow. Every year an estimated 1,025 babies are born with the syndrome, which often requires a series of surgeries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. T.J. endured three open-heart surgeries before getting a heart transplant last year, Greg Olsen said.

“Our eyes became very wide open to just the challenges and the needs that so many heart families like us” have, he said.

It was while T.J. was undergoing the transplant process last year that Olsen said the family and the charity began looking at next steps for outreach.

“How can we continue to wrap our arms around more families in the congenital heart space, not only in Charlotte but throughout the entire Carolina region?” he said. “That led us here to MUSC.”

It is the first outreach for the charity outside the Charlotte area where Olsen, a former tight end for the Carolina Panthers, lives and where the charity has raised more than $5 million for the children’s hospital and for pediatric heart services there. The family also has a place on Kiawah, and part of the reason they vacation there is because of the close proximity of high-level pediatric cardiology in Charleston, Olsen said.

“We have to be very particular about where we go and make sure we have access to care,” he said.

Co-founder of The HEARTest Yard Greg Olsen (left) and his son T.J. Olsen, 9, who was born with a serious heart defect, greet nurse Maribeth Perkins in the pediatric cardiac ICU on a tour of the hospital in Charleston on Aug. 15, 2022. Henry Taylor/Staff

By Henry Taylor
In addition to supporting the hospitals, doctors and staff, the charity seeks to cover the needs families face on the outside. And those can be considerable, said Dr. Mark Scheurer, chief of Children’s and Women’s Services at MUSC. It can be things like special therapy services, help with pharmacy, or navigating the insurance bureaucracy, he said.

“It also puts a tremendous strain on their employment as parents, their juggling of other children,” Scheurer said. “They are often traveling a distance. Even if they are local, those strains go to the core of every family. It’s not just about the intense needs of the individual child. A partnership like this allows us to touch those families and support them in a way that we struggle to do on our own.”

Olsen said he hopes the donation will be “the first of many.” The hope is to “elevate the care for these families and these little heart kids who desperately need our help,” he said. “We know what these families are going through firsthand and that’s why we’ve made such a commitment as a family and as our team at HEARTest Yard.”