October 26th, 2009
LAKE FOREST, Ill. – When Charles Tillman was asked to speak to some members of the United States Congress about the Berlin Heart, the Bears cornerback didn’t hesitate to accept the invitation. A year ago, the revolutionary device kept his infant daughter, Tiana, alive while she awaited a heart transplant that saved her life.
Tillman will travel today to Washington, where he’ll speak on Tuesday at a luncheon in a congressional meeting room at the U.S. Capitol Visitor’s Center. The event will highlight medical technologies that are helping to lower health care costs and improve the quality of life for patients with cardiovascular disease.
The presentation is being hosted by the Advanced Medical Technology Association (AdvaMed), the American College of Cardiology and Mended Hearts, a support group that helps heart-disease patients and their families.
Tillman will be one of three speakers. There are expected to be 60-80 people in attendance, including some members of Congress.
“I felt it was my duty to do it,” Tillman said. “For everything [Tiana] went through and the other recipients go through, this is the least that I can do. Flying to Washington, staying in a nice hotel and speaking to [lawmakers] is easy considering what they’ve done.”
Tillman had been participating in an OTA practice in June 2008 when Bears coach Lovie Smith pulled him off the field and delivered some alarming news: his newborn daughter was being rushed via helicopter to Children’s Memorial Hospital with a serious heart ailment.
A battery of tests revealed that Tiana was suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy, which causes the heart to weaken and enlarge, disabling the heart’s pumping system. It’s a condition that affects roughly 1 in 100,000 children in the United States.
While awaiting a donor heart, doctors bought more time for Tiana in late July by installing the Berlin Heart, a ventricular assist device that takes over the pumping action of the heart. In performing the eight-hour operation, Children’s Memorial became the first hospital in Illinois to use the Berlin Heart.
“The Berlin Heart represents medical technology that potentially can be an option and prolong life for our patients who are in the most dire need of a heart transplant,” Dr. Carl L. Backer, surgical director of Heart Transplantation at Children’s Memorial, later explained.
The Berlin Heart was first implanted in 1991 and first used in the United States in 2000. It sits outside the chest, with finely calibrated catheters that are placed within the heart and attached to two pumps. The system bypasses the heart by taking blood from inside the heart and pumping it to the lungs and body.
“We knew the Berlin Heart could extend the patient’s life significantly, and in this case, it also strengthened the child for transplantation,” Dr. Jeffrey G. Gossett, attending physician for the Division of Cardiology at Children’s Memorial, later said.
A few days after Tiana received the Berlin Heart, doctors phoned Tillman to inform him that a donor heart had been located. The transplant was performed, and Tiana has thrived. She must take medication for the rest of her life, but she is an otherwise healthy, normal 18-month-old.
“She’s loving life,” Tillman said. “She’s a typical toddler, other than doing the meds. That’s for the rest of her life, but I can work with that as long as we’ve got her.”