At a Friday night varsity baseball game that would normally be considered a district rivalry game between Daviess County and Apollo High Schools, the fans took part in an experience that brought unity to the stands. Immediately after the National Anthem was played, announcer Kevin Gibson shared a heartfelt tribute over the loudspeaker.
“Every night at the ballpark is special, but some nights are even more special,” Gibson said. “We often get wrapped up in wins and losses, hits and errors — but sometimes we are thrown a curveball. When those occasions arise, we have a decision. We can roll over and give up or we can fight…Tonight, we are very honored to have a young man that represents the true fighting spirit and a young man that Daviess County and Apollo fans have grown to love. Tonight’s first pitch will be thrown out by No. 10 Grant Oller.”
DCHS junior Grant Oller then took the mound to throw out the first pitch as hundreds of onlookers shared a mixture of joy and tears at the miracle they were witnessing. For Grant’s parents, Nick and Kelly Oller, this was a day they didn’t know for certain would arrive.
Fearing the Worst and Finding Faith
During the last week of September 2018, Grant went from not feeling like himself to being placed on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) life support system at Norton Children’s Hospital. As news of Grant’s condition spread, people throughout the Owensboro community and throughout the United States began to pray for the Oller family and for Grant’s recovery. Nick and Kelly will tell you they felt each and every prayer as they embarked on an unforgettable three-month journey.
“I think that his story is something that people want to hear but sometimes are hesitant to ask,” Nick said. “Here we are eight months past when he first went in. We live it every day and people ask us every day. They tell us that they prayed for Grant and hope he is feeling better. His story reached so many people — we know that without a doubt, those prayers are what brought Grant home.”
While Nick said they are thankful that Grant did not have to come home on oxygen and was able to have his tracheostomy tube removed earlier than expected, Nick will admit there were times that he and Kelly didn’t know if they were going to be able to bring Grant home at all.
Nick said there was one day in particular when the doctors had to extract a large blood clot on the right side of Grant’s chest. The night before he had been hemorrhaging and the doctors worried they were going to have to put Grant on an ECMO for both his lungs and his heart.
“Prior to that surgery he had a gray look,” Nick said. “They brought in chaplains and a prayer blanket and just didn’t give us a whole lot of hope. We thought he was going to just start bleeding out. That’s when you realize all you have is faith. God has a way of making you hit rock bottom before you realize that all you have is faith. All we had was prayer, we didn’t have anything else. He pulled through it and continued to get better each and every day.”
Although Nick said he and Kelly tried so often to think about the positive, he said there were those moments that they couldn’t help but think about the reality of what the future might look like.
“It was the true reality,” Nick said. “You try not to go down that road, but we asked ourselves, ‘Will we be able to go on spring break with the baseball team? Will he be able to go to prom? How do I go home without him? How do I plan a funeral for a kid?’ Those are all a reality.”
After spending three months of their lives at Norton Children’s Hospital, Kelly said now that they have been home for a few months, there are little things she doesn’t take for granted anymore.
“It’s funny the things you are grateful for,” Kelly said. “I’m thankful I can do laundry and clean up. Watching Grant walking down the stairs or laying on the floor playing with the dog. We’re very fortunate.”
As a mom, when it came to sitting by her son’s bedside and worrying about her 12-year-old daughter at home, Kelly said, as difficult as it was, prayer and patience were key.
“We watched so many people come and go from that PICU — there were times we thought, ‘Are we ever going to get out of here?’” Kelly said. “But there were so many miracles in so many situations — [you had to believe] God’s got this. You had to pray. You had to trust. You had to wait. We just had to trust and know that everything would turn out for the good if we just waited.”
As far as moving forward, Nick said several of the physicians talked to him and Kelly about the aftermath of their experience, and how some of their feelings may even be classified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“If he has a cold, we ask him, ‘Do you feel okay? Can you breathe okay?” Nick said. “That’s another part that you still live with every day. We know that, with time, that will probably get better. It is scary you still have those moments — you still worry.”
While Grant enjoyed moments in the dugout with his team Friday night, he will not be playing this season. Nick said they are taking a more conservative approach with the hope that Grant can come back fully prepared for next season.
“We love baseball and Grant loves baseball — but we were wondering if we would see him walk down the steps again or be back on the baseball field again,” Nick said. “To be able to see him back on the field and back on the mound is another answered prayer and another God thing.”
Kelly said where Grant is now is such a far cry from where he was when he was released from Norton and transferred to Frazier Rehab Institute in Louisville.
“You would never think that your child would be your hero — but we can’t complain about a cold or not feeling like getting out of bed,” Kelly said. “I remember going through physical therapy and wishing I could trade places with him. He had to physically relearn everything from how to walk again to how to use his arms. He did it and never once complained — the determination on his face every single time. He was fighting when he didn’t even know he was fighting.”
Two weeks ago Grant was cleared by his pulmonologist, Dr. Bickel, at Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville.
“He has already completed physical therapy and occupational therapy,” Nick said. “He is now working with Seth Sharp at the Healthpark as a trainer to help put muscle mass back on in the proper way, and help him with endurance. It doesn’t have anything to do with getting him back onto the field right now — but just getting those steps in place to get him back healthy again.”
Facing the Future
Although the Ollers have so much to be thankful for, Nick said being able to bring their son home and have him return to his normal life is what he is most grateful for.
“For him to go through everything he went through and have no complications at this point, that was a miracle within itself,” Nick said. “You never think your life can change in the blink of an eye — it definitely can. It just makes your faith stronger.”
While they are happy to have the last eight months behind them, Nick said their family does realize that this is not the end of their story.
“We know that this is just the beginning,” Nick said. “There will be more opportunities to share our story and Grant will be able to share his story his whole life. In time, I think we might be able to see why we went through what we had to go through.”
Kelly added, “We don’t know why this happened, and that’s OK, because we’re grateful for it because it’s changed all of our lives for the better.”