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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Greg Olsen Foundation gives $2.5 million to heart care at Atrium Health Levine Children’s

Former Carolina Panther tight end Greg Olsen and his wife, Kara, announced a $2.5 million gift Thursday for the pediatric heart program at Atrium Health Levine Children’s.

The Olsens’ support, which involves almost $10 million in donations, dates back to 2012 when their son was born with a congenital heart defect. T.J. turns 11 in October and is doing well two years post heart transplant, says Olsen, who is now a Fox Sports broadcaster.

Greg Olsen, center, surrounded by his wife, Kara, and Atrium Health Dr. Gonzalo Wallis, along with young heart patients.

The donation from Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation will support the continued development of the HEARTest Yard Congenital Heart Center, as well as establish an endowed chair for the program. Funding an endowed chair helps with the recruitment and retention of top pediatric heart doctors, Atrium officials say.

“We always knew that T.J.’s journey at some point would provide meaning and there would be a purpose to why we were dealt this, why was he dealt this, and in our heart of hearts this is why,” says Olsen.

“What we can do can change the lives of families coming down the road behind us, and that was our ultimate goal,” he adds.

Dozens of medical staff and Atrium officials surrounded the Olsen as the announcement was made. Also present were several families whose children have had serious heart problems.

Tia and Eric Brown with their daughter, Nyla, who underwent a heart transplant June 22, 2023.

Tia and Eric Brown were told in the 20th week of pregnancy the left side of their daughter’s heart was not developing properly. That was in 2017. “You just don’t know what to think. It’s scary,” Eric Brown says Thursday.

The Browns brought their daughter, Nyla, who started kindergarten this year, for a checkup Thursday – less than three months after the little girl’s own heart transplant. As Olsen explained the reasons for his gift, Nyla pretended to cook on a toy stove less than 20 feet away.

“She’s already roller skating,” says her mother. “We’re so proud of her.” They call her their “heart warrior.”

Nyla underwent three surgeries before her heart transplant June 22. “We’re so gracious to the donor’s family,” Tia Brown says. Eric Brown hopes they can one day personally thank them.

Nyla’s first surgery came shortly after her birth in November 2017, and Olsen’s Receptions for Research Foundation allowed the Browns access to home health nurses who cared for Nyla in recovery, says Tia Brown.

“It’s been a long, hard, rocky road, but what you see here is a girl who’s getting better and she’s going to get better with time,” says Tia Brown. Nyla spent three months at Atrium Health Levine Children’s for her transplant – 37 days preparing her for surgery – and was just sent home Aug. 14.

The Browns also have endowed a $2,000 scholarship – the Nyla D. Brown Heart Scholarship – that will go to a student at the Medical University of South Carolina at Charleston. “We’re so inspired by what’s been given to us we want to return the favor and help someone else,” Eric Brown says. 

Olsen says he loves to come to Levine Children’s and reconnect with children he has seen grow up with congenital heart conditions. He says some of the children he has met over the years are now teenagers. 

“It hasn’t been very long ago that the reality was that kids like TJ would not be 10 years old today,” says Olsen. “We constantly remind ourselves about how far we’ve come so quickly.”

Levine Children’s cardiology and heart surgery program ranked No. 8 in the nation on U.S News & World Report’s “Best Children’s Hospitals” list, earlier this summer.

Dr. Gonzalo Wallis said the financial boost from Olsen’s foundation will be transformational. Wallis assisted in the transplant procedure of Olsen’s son as Levine Children’s chief of pediatric cardiology and medical director of the pediatric heart failure.

Olsen’s foundation has helped Levine Children’s patients and their families with the opening of the cardiac neurodevelopmental clinic and establishing the HEARTest Yard Congenital Heart Center in 2020. The Olsen’s recent commitment will support the center’s specialized care programs, such as the neurodevelopmental program, children’s high-acuity monitoring program (CHAMP) and the pediatric Fontan clinic, which provides ongoing, holistic care to patients who have had a Fontan procedure, a type of open heart surgery that usually occurs in children between the ages of 18 months and 3 years.

Olsen was a three-time Pro Bowl tight end for the Carolina Panthers during his nine years with the team, part of a 14-year National Football League career. He attended the University of Miami. His playing career ended in 2020 after one year with the Seattle Seahawks.

Charlotte-based Atrium Health is part of Advocate Health, the third-largest U.S. nonprofit health system. It was created in 2022 from the combination with Advocate Aurora Health.

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