High school track star runs again after transplant

Crushed in a freak accident, a Wisconsin resident came to IU Health for life-saving multi-organ transplant surgery.

Persistent. Like a marathon runner eyeing the finish line, Teran Olvera was determined to reach his goal.

A former high school athlete, Olvera wore the #22 on his football jersey for the Abbotsford High School Falcons where he was a defensive running back and linebacker. He also wrestled in the school’s heavyweight class. But track was his favorite sport and he mastered the sprints and set a school record for hurdles the same year he graduated – 2011.

After high school he began working for a local fire department with a focus on a degree in fire science. He also worked for a trucking company.

It was the day before Labor Day four years ago when this former high school athlete’s life was in jeopardy. He came to IU Health and under the care of Dr. Richard Mangus received life-saving transplant surgery.

In his job with the trucking company Olvera washed the beds and sometimes added bedding for livestock transports. He also helped with mechanical work. On this day he was working the night shift and was one hour away from punching the clock when he was pinned between two trailers. He was a half hour away from the nearest hospital and heavy fog prohibited an emergency airlift. As a member of a fire crew he knew the drill – advanced paramedics meet ground crews and stabilize the patient during the final leg of the transport.

“I was fading in and out. They shocked me in the ambulance and I was told I flat lined again in the operating room. I don’t remember much of anything until I woke up a day later,” said Olvera, 26. His internal organs were crushed.

Within a week he was admitted to IU Health. He remained inpatient through Halloween. Two months later he returned to begin prepping for transplant. In March 2016 he received an intestinal transplant. When he went into rejection Olvera was listed for multivisceral transplantation – pancreas, liver and intestine.

Throughout his extended hospital stays, Olvera depended on staff members to encourage him as he found his way back to good health. “The transplant team members were the ones who would keep me entertained with stories about their vacations and just keep me focused on life outside the hospital,” said Olvera.

Among those caregivers were Allison Brown, his transplant coordinator and Tracy Burch his dietitian. Since his transplant, Olvera continues to return for check ups every six months and walks the halls chatting with team members. A couple of his visits have been timed with the spring FDIC International Convention for fire and rescue professionals. During last year’s convention Olvera joined other participants walking the Courage & Valor 5K. This year, he set a new goal and asked Brown and Burch to join him. He wanted to run the race.

“He’s persistent. He has drive for the career he wants. Over the course of time I’ve known him we’ve had a lot of conversations about his limitations and how he could push through them,” said Brown. He hadn’t run in five years, so Brown and Burch were happy to join him and help Olvera accomplish his goal.

“This is why I do what I do,” said Burch, who has worked with transplant patients for 14 years. “I want to be able to help people get their lives back to normal. As their dietitian it doesn’t just mean being able to enjoy food again but also being able to accomplish amazing things – getting married, adopting kids, going back to school.”

Olvera is back in school full time now studying to become a fire medic. Long term he hopes to become a trauma surgeon or a physical therapist.

“The team at IU Health has helped me realize I can do what I want to do,” said Olvera. “I have been on both side – as a patient and as a first responder. I think I can put that experience to use to help others.”

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.