Chances are, if it’s a sunny day, you can find 10-year-old Owen Maier outdoors doing what he loves most – playing basketball. An avid Los Angeles Lakers fan thanks to legends like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, there’s still another team that takes up space in his heart. That’s where the Florida Gators reside.
A Gators fan since birth, Owen has been named as the 2024 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Champion for UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. He and his family will serve as advocates and spokespeople to help us move medicine forward for the pediatric patients our nonprofit hospital serves each year.
Owen’s connection to the Gators runs deeper than sports, as he explained, “My favorite sports team is the Gators because there was a gator in the ambulance that I rode in when I was a newborn.”
Looking at the energetic, basketball-loving fourth grader, you would never guess the stark contrast that his life has become, compared to the uncertainties that surrounded his entrance to the world, which could’ve claimed much more than his love for basketball.
Flashback to 2013: Owen’s parents had no idea what was happening as panic set in around the delivery room.
“Minutes after birth, Owen was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect which required immediate and life-saving care from the UF Health Congenital Heart Team,” said Owen’s mother, Jessica.
Despite a healthy pregnancy and routine ultrasounds, Owen entered the world without enough oxygen pumping to his body, a result of the rare congenital heart defect known as transposition of the great arteries where the aorta and pulmonary artery are reversed.
After attending to the immediate challenges that Owen faced, the delivery team reunited Owen with his family and introduced him to the UF Health Shands Neonatal Critical Care Transport, known as ShandsCair. Owen was intubated and transported to UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, where he had his first surgery at a mere 5-hours-old. Two weeks later, Owen underwent open-heart surgery and an arterial switch procedure to correct the heart defect.
Reflecting on those critical moments, Jessica Maier expressed gratitude, saying, “The most positive outcome was that UF was able to save his life with the surgeries, and now knowing he can live close to a normal life at home with us.”
Owen’s journey continued in the pediatric intensive care unit at the children’s hospital for nearly two months. Finally, the Maier family experienced the joy of bringing their baby boy home.
“The skilled staff and available equipment led to the lifesaving treatment that our son received, as well as many other children and families continue to need,” Maier said.
Today, Owen is thriving. Regular check-ups at the UF Health Congenital Heart Center are a small inconvenience for the progress he continues to make, on and off the basketball court. Between his love for the great outdoors, jumping into piles of leaves, playing with his older brother and entertaining his little sister, Owen embraces each day with enthusiasm.
Part of Owen’s enthusiasm is due to his longtime connection to the Gators, a bond that can be traced back over a decade to the ambulance ride that was just the beginning of his incredible journey.
“I love watching the Gators play basketball on TV and my favorite memory is going to a Gators football game,” Owen said.
These are more than just sentiments for a favorite sports team, but a deep appreciation for the team that became an integral part of his narrative.
Every year, 170 Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals identify a “Champion” in each of their communities to serve as the face for children treated at their local children’s hospital. These ambassadors spend the year advocating for the charitable need of children’s hospitals across North America.