CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- TJ Olsen needs a new heart.
Those who have followed the career of former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen, who retired in January to pursue a job as an NFL analyst for Fox Sports, are familiar with TJ’s story.
TJ, 8, was born in 2012 with a congenital heart defect that required four surgeries, including three open heart procedures and the installation of a pacemaker.
He had been leading as typical of a childhood as possible, even serving as a bat boy for his older brother’s 2019 Little League team that fell one win short of making the Cal Ripken Invitational World Series in Florida.
On Monday, Olsen announced in a series of tweets TJ’s heart was "reaching its end" and it "ultimately could lead to a transplant."
Unfortunately, it seems his heart is reaching its end. We are currently working through the process to determine our next steps, which ultimately could lead to a heart transplant— Greg Olsen (@gregolsen88) May 24, 2021
Olsen and his wife, Kara, established the HEARTest Yard initiative shortly after the birth of TJ and his twin sister, Talbot, to raise money for less fortunate families going through crises like theirs.
The three-time Pro Bowl selection has donated millions to the foundation and to the construction of a 25,000-square-foot facility at Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte known as the "HEARTest Yard Congenital Heart Center." TJ is in the care of doctors at the facility.
"We don’t know how long we will be within these hospital walls," Olsen wrote on Twitter. "We do know that we are in full control of our attitudes and our outlook."
Olsen made Charlotte his permanent home even after spending the last year of his career with the Seattle Seahawks. He told ESPN in 2019 how much joy he got out of doing things like coaching his son’s Little League team after years of dealing with TJ’s surgeries.
He called it arguably the best time of his life.
"I learned that the simplest things made me the happiest," Olsen said. "On a Friday night when a lot of people wanted to do a million different things, I was taking the boys to practice, then meeting my wife and daughter and the other families for pizza down the street, sitting there and hanging out with the other families and my kids and wife.
"We didn’t need to do anything fancy or go on fancy trips. It was really a unique experience. I really enjoyed it."
Now TJ is fighting for his life again, and Olsen is there fighting with him.
"TJ has been a fighter since birth," Olsen wrote in thanking everyone for their prayers. "We are going to get through this as a family and be better off as a result of this experience."
Olsen said on Instagram that TJ had a test Tuesday to gather data to find the best transplant candidate possible.
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey said he’s exchanged texts with Olsen.
“This is one of those times that is not really explainable,’’ he said after Tuesday's offseason practice. “What a brutal situation. For those of you who don’t know, TJ is one of the best little kids in the world. At 8 years old to go through what he’s gone through in his life and add this on top of it is just sad.
“I know they have such an amazing support system around him. We are all here for the Olsen family, and I know the entire North Carolina and South Carolina community is as well. Everybody is here for the Olsens. [Greg] is somebody that just exemplifies what it means to be a great player and even a better person off the field.’’