Every Oak Parker who watches Monday night football will know Chicago Bears defensive cornerback Charles Tillman. Nicknamed “Peanut,” Tillman has played for the Bears since 2003, when he was the 35th overall NFL draft pick.
Tillman made a “time-out” cameo at Loyola University Medical Center's Ronald McDonald Children's Hospital on Tuesday, bringing some Chicago-style Christmas cheer to children in the hospital.
“We're here just trying to spread the love a little bit,” Tillman said. The football star came on behalf of his Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, which works to improve the quality of life of critically and chronically ill children in Chicago.
Kids lined up outside the hospital playroom to take pictures with Tillman and get his autograph. Some had him sign footballs, others T-shirts. One kid in a hospital gown gave him a hug.
Each kid also received a blue or orange backpack filled with a Bears blanket, stuffed animal and football. One kid, after getting a backpack, began singing the Chicago Bears fight song.
Tillman founded Cornerstone in 2005 with the goal of improving education, but changed the program's focus after his daughter Tiana was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy in 2008. The heart disorder, which causes heart deterioration and failure, occurs in about one in 100,000 children in the United States.
Tiana received a heart transplant, and Tillman says that today she is alive and well.
“In a sense her sickness has been a blessing in disguise,” Tillman said. He credited her life-threatening illness with shaping his organization's mission and driving the outreach work he does today.
Tillman's foundation says he has impacted the lives of over one million Chicago-area children. He was recently named one of the top five “good guys” in the NFL.
Loyola University's Ronald McDonald Children's Hospital was established in 1996, at the time the only children's hospital with the Ronald McDonald House Charities name. Today the hospital employs almost 100 pediatricians and subspecialists.
As for his own well-being, Tillman says he's been blessed with health this football season.
“I've been good,” Tillman said. Then, reaching up to a playroom plastic tree: “Knock on...some fake wood? Is this real wood? I'll knock on it anyway.”
After seeing kids in the playroom Tillman spent the rest of his afternoon doing bedside visits and helping kids do a Christmas art project.