Former Panthers player hosts annual fundraiser to support children with heart defects

At 11 months, little Jim Leitner is a fighter.

His battle began before he was born when doctors discovered he had a heart defect. This continued with two open-heart surgeries in the first two months of his life.

Through it all, the Leitner family found support to lean on in a former Carolina Panthers player.

“There were definitely times in the hospital where I felt paralyzed as a mother,” Sarah Leitner told Channel 9’s DaShawn Brown. “There was nothing I could do, but then I remembered that God is even greater than that. … I couldn’t have handled this on my own, but he gave us Levine (Children’s Hospital), he gave us the HEARTest Yard.

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Retired NFL tight end Greg Olsen and his wife, Kara, started the nonprofit that has grown to include the annual FitFest fundraiser. The Olsens’ own son, TJ, recently celebrated a year with a new heart after suffering from his own flaw.

“When I look back 10 years ago, the number of people, family, friends, but also strangers (who offered their support),” Greg said. Now, to be able to have other families add us to this HEARTest Yard support list, I know when they build an army of people around them. the HEARTest Yard is one element of this.

HEARTest Yard offers a variety of free health services to families with children with congenital heart disease.

This year’s FitFest will take place Thursday at the Atrium Health Dome at Bank of America Stadium. The foundation has a fundraising goal of $88,000. Anyone can register here.

>>> In the video at the top of this page, a family shares with DaShawn Brown how the Heartest Yard surrounded them with support when they needed it most.

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