Greg Olsen says Thanksgiving takes on a new meaning after 6-week-old son's surgery

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thanksgiving has taken on a new meaning for Panthers veteran tight end Greg Olsen.

The stress Carolina fans have endured from the team's close losses this season pales in comparison to what Olsen and his wife Kara have been through the last few months.

Olsen's 6-week-old son T.J. was born with a congenital heart defect called hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) and spent the first four months of his life in Levine Children's Hospital in Charlotte. He faces two additional surgeries over the next three years — including one in three to five months — but for now is recovering well at home with his healthy twin sister Talbot and their 17-month-old brother Tate.

"It's going to be a whole different type of thankful this Thanksgiving for us," Olsen said. "Through the years you really lose track of what is important and obviously our season hasn't gone really well, but it's going to be such a blessing Thursday to have all of my kids home and together."

The Olsens first discovered there was a problem when prenatal tests on their twins revealed an issue with their unborn son's heart.

Two days after she gave birth to a pair of 8-pound babies on Oct. 9, T.J. was taken into surgery to repair an underdeveloped left ventricle and aorta.

Olsen said doctors told him 25 years ago the condition would have been fatal, but with advancements in medicine there is now a 70 percent survival rate — and some children who've had the surgery are now doing well in their early twenties.

Olsen said T.J. is "thriving" in his recovery.

"He's been home for about two weeks and the biggest thing they told us was to continue to feed him, make sure he eats and continues to grow so he's ready for his next surgery," Olsen said. "He's really doing as well as we could have hoped. So now we're getting him ready for round two."

Regardless of how well the next two surgeries go, T.J. will never be like his father, who has played six seasons in the NFL with Carolina and Chicago.
Because of his condition, T.J. won't be able to play contact sports and certainly won't ever put on a football helmet, catch passes running across the middle or block a defensive end.

And Olsen is just fine with that.

Doctors "were saying it like they were trying to warn me," Olsen said. "And I was like, hey listen, you've got the wrong guy here. There's a good chance he wasn't going to play football anyway. I don't care. In times like this you realize if he's just a good student and a good person that is really all that matters at the end of the day."

Olsen said he and Kara were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from fans, teammates and Panthers owner Jerry Richardson.

He said the entire experience has changed his family forever.

"It's opened our eyes," Olsen said. "A lot of people, until they go through something like this, feel like it is always going to be somebody else. And now here we are going through something you read and hear about with other people. You get through that part of 'What did we ever do to deserve this?'

"But we got past that pretty quick and just kind of embraced it. We've taken on a positive outlook of hey, God wouldn't have given us this baby if we weren't able to handle it."

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