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Colchester's Olson Overcomes Heart Defect To Shine On Football Field

Colchester's Olson overcomes heart defect to shine on football field

Colchester High School football player Bailey Olson participates in a tackling drill during practice on Tuesday, August 28, 2017. Olson was born with congenital defects that required 2 open-heart surgeries when he was very young. (Photo: GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS)

COLCHESTER - A 73-yard dash for a touchdown on the game's opening kickoff. A half-dozen or so catches for more than 100 receiving yards that included a fourth-down grab to set up the go-ahead score. And then a game-sealing interception in the closing seconds.

Pencil in Bailey Olson's coming-out party in his sophomore season as Sept. 30, 2016, — a crowd-pleasing, 25-22 Division I high school football victory over Brattleboro.

"He’s pretty special athletically," Colchester coach Tom Perry said this week as he went over Olson's decisive reception. "It wasn't even in our playbook, and, sure, we were able to set something up, but it only worked because he can make a catch on a ball that was down, and he made a play on it.

"You watch football for a while, and Bailey's a good one."

The 16-year-old Laker standout, now a junior and one of the state's most feared returning playmakers, considers his chance to play the sport he craves — or participate in any activity — a blessing. So does Perry and Olson's parents, Jim and Jude.

He was born with a ventricular septal defect that led to two open-heart surgeries before he turned 2 years old. Olson's condition hasn't been an issue since the procedures, and he's been cleared, through stress tests, every year of high school to play sports.

"In the back of my mind and the back of my wife's mind: Should we let him play football?" Jim Olson said. His son is "always amazed we do, but Bailey loves it, and it's his passion."

Perry, who's known the Olson family for 30 years, once asked, "Isn’t there that temptation just to keep him in bubble wrap?"

Perry said Jim Olson told him, "Yeah, there was the temptation, but if you met the kid, you’d know that would be impossible."

Too young to remember the trips to Boston Children's Hospital or the surgeries themselves, Bailey Olson says he is determined to play despite, at one time, having a hole in his heart.

"I didn’t have any hesitation at all," the 6-foot-1, 170-pound Olson said. "I knew I could do it, and no matter what people would probably tell me, I would just say I want to do this because this is my life.

"I’ve been really lucky," he added. "I know most kids that have had this have never dreamed of playing sports in their life."

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death for young athletes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

"It’s a huge fear and not just for (Olson) but for all of them. But he makes it real — because you know there is something that could be wrong with him," Perry said. "I guess the amazing part is, it never shows. He never acts like it, and he certainly never uses it as a crutch — not in the 10 years that I’ve known him."

Ventricular septal defect, or VSD, the most common congenital heart defect among newborns, is an opening in the wall dividing the two lower chambers of the heart, according to the American Heart Association. The defect can cause breathing issues and higher pressure in the heart.

A couple months after he was born, Olson had surgery to close the hole. But during the procedure, doctors discovered Olson's aorta, the body's largest artery, needed to be re-routed.

With the possibility of a heart transplant later in life if the aorta wasn't fixed, Olson had his second open-heart surgery one month shy of his second birthday.

"They described it as his aorta was pinched off like a garden hose. If that continued, it would spray against the wall of his heart," Jim Olson said. "Ever since then, he's been OK.

"As the years go on and we get further and further out, the less likely it is any intervention again would have to happen."

That didn't make his son's early years any less worrisome.

"He's been fine for a long time, and he does everything. He runs 10 miles without a problem and has no limitations," Jim Olson said. "But when we were going through it, if someone could have told me in 15 years he'd be a varsity football player and everything's gonna be OK — that would have been nice story to hear."

Hoping one day to play at the college level, Bailey Olson has worked hard on his craft and trekked to out-of-state camps for additional exposure. Football "means the world" to Olson, who grew up catching passes from his older brother J.P. Olson, a Laker football alum.

And inside the Olson home, Bailey's heart history is rarely a topic of conversation anymore. To Bailey, he's as healthy as ever.

"I feel like I feel like a normal 16-year-old," he said. "I feel like my life is the same as everyone else’s."

Story Credit: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/story/sports/high-school/football/2017/08/31/colchesters-olson-overcomes-heart-defect-shine-football-field/596390001/