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Tillman shares inspirational story in video interview
October 2nd, 2013

Charles Tillman is a two-time Pro Bowl cornerback who has set multiple Chicago Bears records, but the most inspiring aspect of his life has nothing to do with football. 

In a five-minute video interview on the Christian website TheIncrease.org, Tillman discusses his faith in God while sharing the emotional story of his infant daughter’s life-saving heart transplant. 

On May 20, 2008 Tillman was participating in a Bears practice when then-coach Lovie Smith pulled him off the field and delivered some alarming news: Tillman’s three-month-old daughter Tiana was being rushed to a downtown Chicago hospital via helicopter with a serious heart ailment. 

A battery of tests revealed that Tiana was suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy and needed a heart transplant to survive. The condition, which affects about 1 in 100,000 children in the United States, causes the heart to weaken and enlarge, disabling the heart’s pumping system. 

“The doctor leans over to me and says, ‘Look, Mr. Tillman, I’m going to tell you this because you’re really calm and I feel you can take it. Your daughter is really sick and there is a possibility that she might not make it through the night,’” Tillman said in the interview.

Tiana survived the night but remained in desperate need of a transplant. About a week later, Tillman and his wife, Jackie, were summoned to the hospital after being told that a donor heart had been located. Hours passed and the Tillmans began to worry that something was wrong because their daughter had not been taken to be prepped for surgery. 

A doctor soon confirmed their greatest fears, informing Charles and Jackie that the heart that had been harvested had been rejected and was not suitable to be transplanted into their daughter. 

“He told us the news and I remember my wife just melted on the ground,” Tillman said. “I felt so helpless as a man because I think most women, their greatest need is security out of a man and I feel like I can provide that. I’m this big strong football player. I’ve got muscles and biceps and I’m a tough guy and I’ve got money and I can buy whatever I want. But at this particular time I was rendered helpless.” 

It was at that moment that Tillman turned to God. 

“It was just like me surrendering and saying, ‘God, I give it all to you right now. I can’t fix it. I need you,’” Tillman said. “It was like a weight [off my shoulders], like oh my goodness, I’m done.”

Tillman’s prayers were eventually answered on July 31, 2008, when Tiana underwent a heart transplant that saved her life. Today, she is a healthy five-year-old. 

“That was like a miracle, Him parting the Red Sea, making wine out of water, feeding everybody off of two loaves of bread and a fish,” Tillman said, “That was His miracle and it was beautiful.” 

Tillman created the Cornerstone Foundation in 2005 initially to provide children with educational opportunities and resources to excel in the classroom. But after Tiana’s ordeal, the foundation’s mission was changed to improving the lives of critically and chronically ill children. 

TheIncrease.org, which is affiliated with the Pro Athletes Outreach ministry, encourages Christians to share the inspirational stories on their website with relatives, friends and co-workers. 

Other athletes whose stories are featured on the site include Tillman’s Bears teammate Josh McCown as well as NFL quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, former quarterback Jon Kitna and major league pitchers Andy Pettitte, Clayton Kershaw and Adam Wainwright.