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Francie Paul feels kinship with Tillman
November 26th, 2013

Few people who volunteer their time and efforts for Charles Tillman’s Cornerstone Foundation can empathize with the Bears cornerback more than Francie Paul.

While Tillman changed the mission of his foundation to improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children after his daughter received a life-saving heart transplant in 2008, Paul was also inspired to create a charitable organization after her son was born with a rare heart defect.

Paul and her husband Brian operate the Saving tiny Hearts Society in honor of their son, Joshua, who was born in 2005 with severe complex congenital heart disease. The charity’s mission is to raise seed money for grossly under-funded, lifesaving grass roots research of congenital heart defects. 

“My little boy has had three open heart surgeries and after the second open heart surgery we began the Saving tiny Hearts Society,” Paul said. “They can’t fix what he has, so I know medicine will only get better and we’re very lucky and blessed to be living now.”

The Saving tiny Hearts Society has raised and granted over $1.5 million and funded 12 research projects. The organization has no paid employees, functioning only with volunteers who share the passion for helping to prolong, improve and save the lives of children born with congenital heart defects.

“We wanted to change the future of medicine,” Paul said. “If it can help my little boy, it can help everybody’s little boy and girl. It’s about everybody’s baby. It’s the No. 1 birth defect. Twice as many children die from heart defects than from all forms of pediatric cancer combined, but funding for pediatric cancer is five times greater.

“So many babies and children are dying because of a lack of research to save them. Your first instinct is to not talk about it, but if we don’t talk about it the world won’t know that our kids need help.”

Paul feels a kinship with Tillman, whose daughter, Tiana, was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy when she was three months old. 

“We walk the same walk,” Paul said. “We both have heartache for our kids. When we began our foundation it was to change the future of medicine so there could be adult survivors with severe complex congenital heart disease. Charles’ little girl had a heart transplant, so we had the same worry. We actually funded a couple research projects that are looking into cardiomyopathy, so I know his little girl had that effect.” 

The Saving tiny Hearts Society works with a world-renowned medical advisory board of doctors, scientists and surgeons that review and select research projects. The next grant review is slated to take place Dec. 13 with more research projects to be funded this year.

During her pregnancy, Paul had no clue that anything was wrong with Joshua. Ironically, she watched the movie, “Something the Lord Made,” which chronicles the story of two pioneering heart surgeons in the 1940s. 

“I had seen it when I was expecting Joshua and had no idea I was having a baby with heart disease,” Paul said. “But when he was four days old and he was stabilized on life support, he had the same procedure that they did for the first time 65 years ago.”

Joshua celebrated his eighth birthday on Aug. 11 and is doing well. He has three younger brothers: Noah, 6; Judah, 4; and Levi, 4 months.

“We’re as good as it gets right now,” Paul said. “I’d never forgive myself if he thought he was a sick little boy. He plays baseball, basketball and golf. He’s silly and funny and my life. He knows that Saving tiny Hearts is to help other kids and we’ve seen the goodness and best in friends.”