Greg Olsen finds perspective dealing with newborn’s heart issue
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org October 26, 2012 7:23AM
The Olsens (Greg, Kara, Tate, newborn twins T.J. and Talbot) have been thankful for the support they have received from Greg’s former Bears teammates.
Updated: November 27, 2012 11:10AM
In their rare and quiet moments, when they’re not racing from their home to the hospital, Greg and Kara Olsen lament their skewed perspective before the birth of their twins, T.J. and Talbot, 16 days ago.
“We had a little bit of guilt because, up until this point, our biggest obstacle — the things that we thought were such a big deal — were so trivial,” Greg Olsen, the former Bears tight end, told the Sun-Times. “It just sucks that it takes something so serious to your child to open your mind.”
In her 18th week of pregnancy, Kara learned that T.J. was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome (HLHS), a rare birth defect in which the left side of the heart is critically underdeveloped.
There’s no cure and there’s no one out of their 20s who has undergone the three-step surgical treatment because it was developed in the early 1980s. On Day 3 of his life, T.J. had the first procedure, the most invasive and precarious.
“He’s doing really well,” Olsen said. “We really couldn’t have hoped or asked for a better first couple of weeks of life for him.
“He’s been through a lot — a lot more than anyone should.”
In the midst of the blur of the last few weeks, Olsen was reminded that he’s on pace for his best statistical season, ranking second on the Panthers with 26 catches for 324 yards. On Sunday, he’ll return to Soldier Field, and he’ll get an opportunity to visit with former Bears teammates, many of whom he stays in touch with.
Although he was traded from the Bears to the Panthers in July 2011, Olsen exchanges many texts with linebacker Brian Urlacher, trains in the offseason with running back Matt Forte and talks to tight end Kellen Davis.
Many of them reached out to Olsen when they heard about T.J.’s diagnosis.
“It’s so sad,” Urlacher said. “As a parent, as a friend, you never want anyone to go through that.
“I told him if he needs anything, I’m here for him. But how am I going to help him? It’s tough, man.”
But after the initial shock of Kara’s diagnosis sunk in, Greg immediately called upon a former teammate uniquely qualified to counsel him: cornerback Charles Tillman.
In 2008, Tillman’s daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart that slows the pumping of blood to the body, and needed a heart transplant.
Tillman and his wife, Jackie, advised the Olsens on an array of topics. Greg asked Charles how to emotionally support his wife, how to juggle his job and family and how to tend to the needs of his 15-month-old son, Tate.
“Charles has been unbelievable,” Greg Olsen said. “As fathers and husbands, you always want to fix everything. But this is something we can’t fix.
“Here’s somebody who has been down that road, and any tidbit of advice might help.”
That’s something Greg and Kara have been forced to do more because they can’t be at the hospital every hour of every day.
“It’s so hard to walk away,” Olsen said, “but we have a toddler at home. You put your faith that these doctors and nurses are incredible, and you have to leave it in their hands, because there’s no other option.”
On Thursday, Tillman politely declined to comment for this story, saying it was too personal for him to discuss.
Olsen doesn’t know what T.J.’s future holds but the 27-year-old father of three has gained perspective. He’s seen acts of genuine love, such as Panthers owner Jerry Richardson chartering a private plane from Charlotte for his family so T.J. could undergo an experimental surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. And he’s now seeing the small daily blessings, the ones he might have overlooked before.
“Big picture, we’re better people. We’re better parents, better spouses,” Olsen said. “You stop and say, ‘There’s no guarantee that our baby would make it through that surgery.’ So we cherish every day, and every opportunity.”