Bears' Charles Tillman's Daughter Recovering from Heart Transplant

09/04/2008 at 06:00 AM ET

Every parent longs to hear the words that "Your baby is perfectly healthy," and no one wanted that more than Charles "Peanut" Tillman and his wife Jackie when their daughter Tiana was born six months ago. However, that was not the case. The Chicago Bears cornerback and his wife learned that their daughter suffered from cardiomyopathy, an enlargement of the heart that prevents proper beating, and she would need a heart transplant. Charles shares that "never in a million years" did he think his daughter would have to have a heart transplant. Even harder to face: the reality that comes with a donor organ. "The toughest thing that I had to battle with … is that I knew in order for my daughter to live another kid had to die," he explained.

Tiana received her heart transplant when she was three months old at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. In addition to being life-saving, her treatment was historic because Tiana received a Berlin heart, an experimental blood-pumping device that helps patients to survive longer while waiting for a suitable heart. She was the 160th child help by this device, but the first in the state of Illinois.

Following a successful recovery, Tiana, now six months old, was released from the hospital on Monday, August 25th. She is "smiling and kicking and cooing, all that stuff six month olds are supposed to do," shares her proud dad. Now that Tiana is back at home, the 27-year-old is hoping to focus more on his career.

"I tried to not let this overcome me, because I knew I had a job to do and season was coming up. Did I want to just like quit and give up and just be here all the time and just be with her? Oh, definitely. This is my daughter, man, I only had her three months."

Source: Chicago Tribune


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phoebe on

I’ve never heard of this family before, but I wanted to comment, because I loved reading this story so much I read it several times. What a wonderful feeling, to know that your daughter has a real chance at the life she deserves. Of course, it has that bittersweet edge because of the other child involved, but I would like to send my best wishes to the Tillman family, and especially to Tiana.

Susan on

This really puts everything else into perspective, doesn’t it? I think it takes a brave man to openly acknowledge this; and to share it with others.

Scott on

Such an incredible story and we wish the Tillman family all the best as Tiana continues her recovery process.

Registering to be an organ donor is such an admirable, simple way to give back to fellow human beings. Currently, there nearly 100,000 people waiting for lifesaving transplants.

Take a moment to help save these lives today by finding out how to become a donor in your state at

Donate Life Illinois

Heather on

I am sitting here in tears reading this, I can relate to what he’s saying. I had a perfectly healthy pregnancy and expected to have a healthy baby. We got a big shock the day after he was born. His pediatrician heard a heart murmur, after two more days it got stronger. We took our son to a cardiologist at exactly one week of age and found out he had two very serious heart conditions and would probably go into heart failure at 2 months. Being given news like that, the pain, the shock, the depression it’s not something I could ever put into words. Our son had open heart surgery at 5 months old, during which they found another problem, praise God he is doing well now. He does need more surgery and is followed by his cardiologist. It affects our every day lives because you have to be so careful of things you wouldn’t normally have to think about. Now I know he didn’t need a heart transplant like little Tiana and my God I know that would’ve been even harder to handle. Good for him for talking about this and sharing and thank God his little girl is doing well. It is such a hard thing to go through, you can’t live without your heart ya know? Enough rambling, lol, I just had to say I’m sooo happy for this family because I can relate. This scar that runs down my sons chest is a great reminder of how lucky we are to still have him here and I’m sure Tiana’s scar will be the same reminder for them. 🙂 Oh and our son just had his 5 year surgery anniversary last month, woo hoo, and is now a Kindergartner!

Bren on

What a sad story, I am happy it has a happy ending!! A parents worst nightmare!! Good luck to the Tillman’s and God bless the family of the little girl that decided to donate her organs! 🙂

Heather: Thanks for sharing your story! God bless your son!

Lesha on

How wonderful for his family! Isn’t medical science amazing! Not only are they able to transplant a new heart, but they have the technology in that Berlin heart to give children more of a chance while they wait for a new heart. And what a great gift the family of the donor child was able to give to this family. I can’t imagine every being faced with that decision for my little boy. Just wow.

mary on

I am glad that she is doing well. I have always felt passionate all my life about organ donation.(my dad, brothers sister ect are in the medical field) And even more so when my mom was faced with needing a heart and kidney last year. She too was placed on LVAD which is the adult version of the Berlin. (Although she passed away this past year) In wisconsin, in just 9 months we have had 2 babies who have been placed on the Berlin before their successful heart transplants. Without the VADs or Berlins patients would never make it while awaiting for the heart. So if it is not against your religion to donating organs and if ever faced (I hope no one has to go thru pain of loosing someone early) with tragady PLEASE think about it. I do respect anyones reasons religious or not, but if you never thought about it keep it in the back of your mind. DONATE LIFE!!!!!Don’t think of it as giving up a part of yourself to keep a total stranger alive. It’s really a total stranger giving up a part of themselves to keep you alive!

Loren on

Thanks for the story, I am glad for the good outcome. Heather thanks for sharing very glad for your son’s good outcome. Something serious to think about and another thing we hope as few families as possible have to experience.

Jen on

I’m a huge Chicago Bears fan!! I first read this story on the Chicago Bears website about a week ago and I was in tears reading what Charles had to say about his daughter and how grateful he was for all the doctors and nurses. I have a passion for Organ Donation Awareness. My twin sister and I received corneal transplants. We also have a hard time with the fact that three 16 year olds had to die for us to see. I hope everyone will be inspired to become an organ donor.

Ash on

I knew little about the world of congenital heart defects until my son was diagnosed in utero with a complex heart defect. Luckily he is doing well at 4 years old. He had open heart surgery at 2 weeks old and will need more surgeries in the future. It is amazing though, the technology & wonderful doctors available to treat these children, especially considering that the type of surgery my son had was first performed in 1954…not that long ago really. I am glad to read about this happy ending. I only wish there was more infomation out there about congenital heart defects as they are the most common birth defect.

Heather on

Ash- As mentioned above my son too had open heart surgery. You made the comment that they didn’t start doing the particular surgery your son had until 1954. That is amazing to think isn’t it!? Our pediatrician told us that they didn’t start open heart surgery for any defects, I believe, here in Ohio until somewhere in the 1960/70’s. I too was really surprised by that!! We are both VERY lucky to have had our children with todays technology for sure. 🙂 I just had to comment on your comment about that because it really is an amazing thing. I’m really happy to hear your son is doing well and God bless him and you. It’s a hard thing to go through. Our son needs more surgery although when exactly is unknown, his cardiologist is really hoping for late teens/early twenties. Sadly the older he gets the worse his heart is going to get. BUT like you said it’s amazing how far the technology has come since just the 1950’s, just imagine what else they will come up with when it’s time for our little guys to have more surgery!! 🙂

Also I agree with you that more attention needs to be brought to these congenital heart defects. I found out I was pregnant at 10 days prego (crazy I know), I had always been healthy, was young and wasn’t a high risk pregnancy or anything. It was a big big shock to find out he had heart problems. You hear about other medical problems but none really heart related. His did not become an issue until he took his first breath and could not be picked up by a regular ultra sound. When I was 24 weeks prego with our daughter they did a cardiac U/S to look for defects as once your first child is born with a heart defect the chance of the second being born with one like quadruples. (sp?) It seems like you don’t hear about heart defects until AFTER you’ve had a child with one. More attention should be brought and maybe the U/S’s should be better to where they can pick up on all heart defects.

Anyway, long, long post and I’m sorry. I just couldn’t help but respond to what you said because you are so right. Again glad your son is doing well!!!!! 🙂

Ash on

Heather, Thanks for responding. It is always nice to connect with someone who has been there and done that. =) I, too, now have a little girl, just turned one! When I was pregnant with her we also did the ultrasound to ensure there wasn’t anything going on with her heart. Happily, we found that she has a perfect little heart. It was such a different experience to bring home my daughter at just 6 hours old (birth center birth) since I didn’t get to bring home my son until he was 3 weeks old with an open heart surgery under his belt. It’s sad to think about all that bonding I missed with him during those first 3 weeks when I could only peer at him in his little hospital bed but then again I’ll be forever grateful for his second chance at life. My son’s doctors are hoping he won’t need his next surgery until he is a teenager, too. It will be a pulmonary valve replacement. If you ever want a good read about heart defects take a look at Walk On Water. Some parts are sad but it is such a fascinating look into what really does on in the operating room. Hope you see this.


Until my babygirl Omorah Rhianna was born August 23rd 2008, I have not heard much and/or wasn’t educated about heart defects. We were due to go home August 26th. On August 25th the doctors advised me that my baby had a heart mumor and an ECG/EKG test was supposed to be done August 26th before we went home, assuming everything would be fine. Unfortunately, Omorah was taken to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin for immediate treatment. At 10 days old, Omorah had open heart surgery. At 15 days old today, I was told Omorah would be placed on the list for heart transplantation. Her heart is not functioning they way doctors have hoped. I cant explian what we are going through. I can only continue to pray for my babygirl and have FAITH IN THE LORD that my Omorah would be just fine. I yearn for the day I can hold her again and bring her home for the first time. These story are so emotional but inspiring with hope for Omorah….God Bless you all and your families especially the children that have to go through this. Please keep Omorah in your prayers, we do appreciate it, as well as the nurses and doctors caring for Omorah Rhianna.

mary on

Sharonda Your baby Omorah is in good hands at Childrens Hospital of Wisconsin. Please take advandtage of all they have to offer, parents support groups and the Organ Donation Org group. They are there for you and listen to all of your concerns, and listen to all of your feelings which I am sure you have a ton. You are in my prayers. Mary also from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Bess Hopper on

we gave our son’s heart to someone out in Ohio 2009… we would love to find the person that has his heart and go to meet them but our funds r low and don’t know how to go about this…. so happy your daughter is doing well… she has a gift of life and I love hearing wonderful stories but I would love to have help finding the person so I could hear his heart beat again…. I am nor selfish but caring…. god bless you and your awesome family….love to hear back from you… 843 814 9676 843 747 8287 AS EVER GOD BLESS BESS AND MEL HOPPER OUR ANGEL “MICHAEL JOSEPH HOPPER” 07/24/1973 02/15/2009