CHARLOTTE – Before tight end
Sunday, on the eve of T.J. Olsen's third and final scheduled heart surgery, Olsen's football family was there for him again. The Panthers huddled at the end of practice and said a prayer before Olsen departed to be with his family.
If all goes well, Monday's surgery should be the last one in T.J. Olsen's frightening fight against hypoplastic left heart syndrome (HLHS).
"Anytime you are dealing with open-heart surgery on a child, it's obviously pretty delicate and scary," Greg Olsen said. "But it is the hand he was dealt. It is the hand we were dealt. We will take it on like we have the last two and hope for as fast of a recovery as he can."
While T.J.'s twin sister, Talbot, was born without complications, doctors discovered before the twins' birth that T.J. had a rare and dangerous congenital heart condition. Advances in the treatment of HLHS have increased the survival rate to about 75 percent via a trio of scheduled open-heart procedures. T.J. made it through the first surgery when he was two days old and underwent the second one last summer.
Olsen, whose Receptions for Research foundation continues to raise funds for Levine Children's Hospital through The HEARTest Yard initiative, said he will be with his family and off the football field "until things settle down." If the surgery goes as hoped, Olsen should be in the lineup for the Panthers' regular season opener at Tampa Bay on September 7.
Olsen tweeted Monday afternoon that his son was out of surgery.
KUECHLY PLAYS THROUGH INJURY: Like the Panthers' biggest star on offense, their biggest star on defense is dealing with an injury. But unlike quarterback
Kuechly wore a cast on his right hand in Friday's preseason game at New England and is also wearing it in practice after hyperextending his thumb in Carolina's game versus the Kansas City Chiefs on August 17.
"It's been no problem," Kuechly said. "I have movement where I need movement, and it stops when I need it to stop, so I'm OK.
"I think I hit it against somebody's helmet. They said I just banged it and hyperextended it back a little bit. It was a little swollen after the (Chiefs) game, so this is precautionary."
Finger injuries are common among defensive players and something that certainly won't stand in Kuechly's way, though he may have to wear the cast for a couple of more weeks.
"He'll play with it," said head coach Ron Rivera, a former NFL linebacker. "It happens a lot of times to linebackers, to guys that play with their hands. You're going to jam a thumb, going to bend a thumb back, going to dislocate a finger.
"He'll work through it."
Kuechly's snaps were limited against the Patriots as a part of a plan to get some additional snaps for other players at the position. He sat out the last two series of the first half while some of his fellow defensive starters stayed in but still recorded four tackles.