The HEARTest Yard

When former Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen and his wife Kara learned their son TJ would be born with a severe congenital heart defect – hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS) – they faced all the emotions, challenges, and decisions that are only known by parents of severely ill children. They instantly committed to giving their child the best chance at life, providing him access to the finest doctors, treatment, and technology at Atrium Health’s Levine Children’s Hospital. Because so much of their family life revolves around football, they decided to call this phase “The ‘HEARTest’ Yard.”

Dr. Wallis and TJ Olsen, son of former Panthers player Greg Olsen, after his heart transplant.

Heart transplant recipient TJ Olsen with Dr. Gonzalo Wallis, medical director of pediatric heart transplant (Levine Children’s)

TJ was born in October 2012 and underwent his first surgery just days after being born. Like many HLHS babies, he would face two more in his first three years of life. After going home from the hospital, the Olsen family soon discovered the need, as well as the benefit, of having in-home nursing care for their fragile son.

Extending Care beyond the walls of Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital

As a result of the Olsen Family’s experience, Receptions for Research: The Greg Olsen Foundation partnered with Atrium Health Foundation to establish the HEARTest Yard Fund and initiative. This family service program is administered in conjunction with Levine Children‘s Hospital, making the transition from the hospital to the home much easier for families of infants affected by congenital heart disease. The program helps to prevent complications and re-admissions to the hospital between stages of recovery.

Over the years, Greg and Kara Olsen, along with supporters of their foundation, have achieved many “big wins” for Levine Children’s patients and their families, stemming from their initial creation of the HEARTest Yard Initiative. As the initiative grew, Greg and Kara Olsen recognized an opportunity to support the program on a larger scale.

In 2017, they pledged $750,000 to launch a cardiac neurodevelopmental clinic, which provides cardiac patients and families with access to neuropsychologists, education specialists, mental health professionals, dietitians, and other innovative patient therapies. The gift was followed by a $2.5 million pledge made in 2019 to establish the HEARTest Yard Congenital Heart Center at Atrium Health Levine Children’s Medical Plaza– a game-changer for congenital heart patients in the Carolinas.

Philanthropy in action:

Today, patients of the HEARTest Yard Congenital Heart Center continue to benefit from philanthropic gifts made to the HEARTest Yard Fund, which helps to improve interstage mortality rate, life expectancy, and long-term prognosis of children diagnosed with congenital heart disease. The HEARTest Yard Fund helps to defray some costs associated with home health care and empowers parents as they work to keep their children’s health thriving in preparation for each critical stage of surgery.




Quick Facts: Levine Children’s Pediatric Cardiology and Heart Surgery Program

  • Home to Charlotte’s only pediatric heart surgery program and pediatric cardiovascular intensive care unit, Levine Children’s is experienced in treating even the most complex conditions. Every year since 2014, U.S. News and World Report has ranked Atrium Health Levine Children’s Hospital among the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals for cardiology and heart surgery.
  • Housing the preeminent pediatric cardiac center in the region, the hospital provides a multidisciplinary team of board-certified physicians, including the region’s only pediatric cardiac surgeons.
  • This team, which has pioneered heart care for infants and children, treats a variety of conditions, such as hypoplastic left heart syndrome, heart failure, tetralogy of Fallot, coarctation of the aorta, atrial septal defect, and pulmonary atresia.