This time of year, 16-year-old Grant Oller is usually getting in shape for baseball season at Daviess County High School. But just a few weeks ago he was fighting or his life.
Friday, September 21st was a normal Friday night for Grant Oller, a junior at Daviess County High School, who was enjoying the Sadie Hawkins dance with his girlfriend.
The next day he had a cough, which didn’t seem too alarming, so he rested to try to kick it, thinking maybe it was allergies or just a cold.
Sunday, the cough got worse, but Grant went ahead and worked his normal three-hour shift as a host at Beef O’ Brady’s. Then later that night, he started running a temperature.
So Monday morning, Grant’s mom, Kelly Oller, took him in to Dr. Houston’s office, where they found Grant’s oxygen levels were very low and admitted him to the hospital for pneumonia.
“He really wasn’t feeling well by then, but the x-rays weren’t too significant, so at that point we still weren’t too concerned,” Grant’s dad, Nick Oller, remembered.
But by Wednesday Grant’s condition was still declining, and he was still having difficulty breathing even with a BiPap (bi-level positive airway pressure) machine pushing air into his lungs. That’s when the Ollers requested to have Grant transferred to Norton Children’s Hospital in Louisville. Grant was life-flighted, accompanied by his medical staff. Nick and Kelly drove as fast as they could.
“By the time we got there, Grant was already in his room,” Nick recalled. “They said his oxygen levels were in the single digits, which is critical. The doctors said he had very sick, stiff lungs. And the x-rays there showed his lungs were almost completely whited out with infection. The doctors said they had never seen a 16-year-old kid in good shape with lungs that sick before.”
From Bad to Worse
Someone from his medical team was at his side day and night. And by Thursday and Friday Grant had to rely on hand signals to communicate with his family and medical team because he was intubated (where a tube is inserted in the windpipe to open the airway). Saturday he was coughing even more heavily as he slipped into bilateral pneumonia.
It was time for the family to make the next big decision: putting Grant on an ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) circuit because his lungs were so weak they couldn’t oxygenate the blood enough. “By that point, the doctors were saying the ECMO circuit was Grant’s best chance for survival because his lungs were just so worn out. Basically, the circuit bypasses the lungs, pumps the blood out of the body, circulates it, cleans it, adds oxygen to it, and then pumps it back into the lungs,” Nick explained. “That way Grant’s lungs could just rest and get better.”
But that life-saving procedure is very risky. There is a serious chance of internal bleeding. Plus an elevated risk of blood clots both in the machine tubing and inside the body. Grant had to be completely sedated so there would be no movement to disrupt the procedure.
He was on the circuit for 30 days under the watchful eyes of the medical team and the hopeful eyes of his parents.
“We believe wholeheartedly that through the power of prayer God was working,” Nick said. “There were never any blood clots. There was no bleeding. Everything worked picture perfect.”
The doctors attributed the positive response to Grant being young and physically fit from baseball. Because of that, they were able to pump the blood a little faster and he responded very well.
Off the Machines
It took a month on the ECMO circuit, but once Grant turned the corner, he continued to respond and improve. Typically, coming off the ECMO circuit is a slow process, but Grant came off it faster than expected.
Which was no surprise to Nick and Kelly. “Grant has always amazed us with everything he’s ever done, so this was no exception,” Nick said. “Even when he was sedated and hooked up to all those machines, we could tell his body was fighting to get better.”
By the middle of November, Grant was completely off the circuit and a few days later he was off the ventilator. Since then, he’s gotten a little stronger every day and is reaching new milestones. December 3rd he was taken off all sedations.
With that improvement, he was discharged from Norton and wheeled over to Frazier Rehab Institute to begin speech, occupational, and physical therapy to rebuild muscle mass and regain motor skills from being in bed for two months.
“At one time, we were weighing our options and doctors were seriously considering a lung transplant,” Nick remembered. “Now to see him so strong and walking on his own again is amazing. We truly believe it’s because of prayer, the support we’ve been shown, and God’s grace.”
Although you’ll be reading this story in January, at the time of this writing, Grant summarized his recovery goal in three simple words: “Home for Christmas.”
Support From Home
The outpouring of love and support from the Owensboro community has been truly overwhelming for the Ollers. Grant says he is especially appreciative of his co-workers at Beef O’ Brady’s who have stayed in close contact with the family through this whole ordeal. “For me just working there a short time, it’s amazing how they’ve been behind me,” Grant said. “I couldn’t be more grateful. They’ve sent gifts, letters, they’ve done so much. It’s such a supportive group.”
Beef’s even planned a homerun of a fundraising night for the Ollers and according to owner Stacy Bratcher it was one of their biggest sales days in history. “They actually had to stop taking take-out orders because they were so backed up,” Nick laughed. “It was amazing.”
Puzzle Pieces put #GrantStrong and “Go4G.O. (Grant Oller)” on their marquee sign out front, as did Independence Bank. Pizza By the Guy hosted a fundraiser night. Crazy Me Gifts printed and sold t-shirts. Jackie Smith sold bracelets. Legends also did a fundraiser. Liz Faught did a charity yoga class and donated the proceeds. Edge Body Boot Camp did a #GrantStrong charity challenge and made a donation. Kyle Aud, who works with Nick at Independence Bank, started a GoFundMe account for the Ollers that was very successful. It looked like the whole town was filling the stands and cheering Grant on!
Nick says the same about Independence Bank. “I’ve had the blessing of working at Independence Bank for 15 years. Everyone knows how supportive Independence Bank is of the community. But let me tell you – they support their own just as much. The Reid family is incredible to work for. And other employees have been outstanding to us through this.”
In unexpected times like these, a strong family pulls together. Fortunately, Kelly’s parents live 25 minutes outside Louisville, which allows them the chance to bring the Ollers meals and fresh clothes. Nicks parents, on the other hand, live here in Owensboro, which means they’ve been able to run Grant’s little sister, Kaden, to and from school and keep her normal routine as she’s cheering on her big brother from home.
“We haven’t been home since September 26th,” Nick said. “There’s no way we could have done this without family. It’s been a huge team effort. We especially want to thank Brian and Mischelle Head and Jill Coons. But there’s been so many people stepping up. Like Mike Mischell who took over mowing our yard for us without even being asked.”
“It’s great to be from a small town and have this kind of support. We can’t thank everyone enough.”