Greg Olsen's Son's Serious Heart Condition Explained

Greg Olsen is no stranger to tense situations. Thirteen years in the NFL across three different teams meant that he saw plenty of stress on and off the field. But none of that comes close to the tension he and his family have been feeling lately. And on March 24, Olsen shared that tension with his fans and followers on Twitter.

In an emotional thread, Olsen shared that the week prior had been extremely hard on his family. His 8-year-old son, TJ, was born with a heart condition known as hypoplastic left heart syndrome (via People). Olsen explained that this led to his son needing three open-heart surgeries before the age of three, and left TJ with a modified heart that is now struggling.

"Unfortunately, it seems his heart is reaching its end," Olsen tweeted. The family now holds out hope for a heart transplant. In the meantime, TJ is receiving care at Levine Children's Hospital in Charlottesville, North Carolina. And as the Carolina Panthers have tweeted, Panther Nation is standing with him.

What is hypoplastic left heart syndrome?

Hypoplastic left heart syndrome is a congenital heart condition, meaning it is present at birth. "The causes of heart defects such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome among most babies are unknown. Some babies have heart defects because of changes in their genes or chromosomes," according to the CDC

All human hearts have four chambers. They all have their own special functions but, generally speaking, the right side pumps oxygen-poor blood to the lungs while the left pumps oxygen-rich blood back out into the body. As a fetus matures in the womb, the left and right sides of a healthy heart develop at about the same rate. If that heart is affected by hypoplastic left heart syndrome, however, the left side doesn't fully develop (via CDC). After birth, the underdeveloped left side of the heart cannot pump out enough blood, affecting both the pressure and flow of blood.

The condition usually requires swift and regular medical attention. And as the child grows, the heart's performance issues lead to severe issues. This is, unfortunately, the situation in TJ's case.

Transplants by the numbers

In his tweets, Greg Olsen said that his son may soon be in need of a heart transplant. It is one of the most organs transplanted, according to the CDC, though the number of transplants is unfortunately small compared to the number of people in need. This is because living organ donors only provide about 6,000 organs per year while 75,000 people hold places on waiting lists. And for organs like the heart, live donors are, of course, not an option.

Patients fortunate enough to receive a transplant are not always immediately in the clear. The American Heart Association says that people who receive heart transplants will have to take immunosuppressive medications for the rest of their lives to ensure their bodies do not reject the transplanted organ. And this is key as transplants are not only generally uncommon but are almost limited by which donor organs match the patient's blood type and body size.

The Mayo Clinic adds that heart transplant recipients should take more care than the average person to eat healthy and exercise regularly to ensure no additional health strain is placed on the donor organ. Immunosuppressive drugs can also have side effects like kidney disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which the American Heart Association says should be screened for by the patient's heart care specialist known as a heart transplant cardiologist.

The Olsens' outreach

Much of the stress of receiving a donor organ comes from the waiting. There isn't much for the patient or their family to do until an organ is available. And this is true for all patients. The Olsens, however, are being as proactive as they can be.

Greg and his wife Kara founded The Heartest Yard in 2013, less than a year after learning that their son would be born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome. The foundation works with Levine Children's Hospital to provide help for parents after the birth of a child with a congenital heart issue. The Olsens struck upon the idea after realizing how necessary they found the in-home care assistance they received when TJ was born, according to Yahoo Sports.

The couple realized that many families can't afford the kind of help they had, especially when learning to care for a newborn with a heart condition. They worked with Levine to make sure more people had access to the same care at no expense to the family of the hospital. The Olsens also donated $2.5 million to Levine's Cardio Care Center, without which the center would not have been possible. Both Greg and his wife seem determined to make as much good as they can out of their situation by helping others who share the same struggle. And countless families are receiving aid and care as a result.

How to help

In the wake of Olsen's tweet many people may be left wondering how they can help. Signing up to be a donor is one step many people can take, though there are some restrictions. And as many organs cannot be taken from live donors, having a donor card is more of an investment in future needs.

For those who want to offer more immediate help, Levine Children's Hospital has many options. Locals can apply to be a volunteer when the hospital opens up applications again. Those with experience as a transplant recipient or family of a transplant recipient can call and offer their services as part of an advisory council to help new recipients and their families adjust to life post-donation. And local groups such as singers, entertainers, and inspirational groups are also welcome to visit so long as they arrange it with the hospital first.

People who want to help from further afield can send in donations of toys and gifts as well as monetary aid. The hospital has compiled a donation wish list PDF that is available here. Virtual entertainment visits are also welcome, especially around the holidays, and again must be arranged with the hospital.

Standing with TJ

TJ Olsen certainly has a wonderful crew of people surrounding him. He has a family who loves him, from his parents Greg and Kara who strive to do all they can for their son to his twin sister Talbot and older brother Tate who both stand by their brother. "They have such an amazing support system around. And we are all here for the Olsen family," the Carolina Panthers said in a video on their official Twitter account. The video goes on to say that the communities of the Carolinas are also behind TJ.

Fans, too, chimed in with their support. "Prayers for TJ and all of the kids his age going through this kind of situation," one wrote. "Always here for papa Olsen! Prayers to his family and to TJ," added another. Fans have given the Olsen family countless well wishes and have shown an outpouring of love for the brave little boy.

As Greg Olsen told fans on Twitter, "We don't know how long we will be within these hospital walls. We do know that we are in full control of our attitudes and our outlook. TJ has been a fighter since birth. We are going to get through this as a family and be better off as a result of this experience."