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Tillman bringing smiles to kids' faces
November 8th, 2012

Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation, prolanthropyWhen Bears cornerback Charles Tillman visits chronically and critically ill children in the hospital, he leaves them with more than just a lasting memory and an autographed picture.

Through his Cornerstone Foundation, Tillman delivers a “Charles Locker” to the children and their families that’s typically filled with iPads, notebook computers, DVD players, portable PlayStation game systems and other electronic handheld games to pass the time during recovery and treatment.

Tillman has brought five lockers to area hospitals. He launched the program in December 2009 by delivering two lockers to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Subsequent facilities that have received lockers include Ronald McDonald’s Children’s Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center, Advocate Children’s Hospital and Rush Children’s Hospital.

Tillman came up with the idea after enduring a medical nightmare involving his own family in 2008. He and his wife Jackie were informed that their three-month-old daughter, Tiana, was suffering from dilated cardiomypathy and needed a heart transplant to survive. It’s a condition that disables the heart’s pumping system and affects roughly 1 in 100,000 children in the United States.

Tiana eventually received a new heart and returned home with her family, but not before her parents had spent three months around the clock at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago. When the Bears cornerback discussed his daughter’s situation for the first time at the hospital in August 2008, he said: “I was here every day. For three months, I lived here. I slept here. I’ve eaten here. I’ve bathed here. I’ve just been all about room 218. That was my home.”

While Tillman had a laptop and other electronic gadgets at his disposal, others weren’t as lucky.

“Some parents didn’t have the resources for those things,” Tillman said. “The idea for the locker came about just from looking at kids in the hospital who were bored and parents bringing their other kids to the hospital who were bored.

“My wife and I felt like every kid should have the opportunity to be a kid, and I think these lockers provide those kids with those opportunities. The message to them is, ‘You can play video games like all the other kids. You have that right. You’ve earned it. You deserve it.’”

Children aren’t the only ones who benefit. One mother whose son was sick had been taking online classes and was able to complete her degree by utilizing a laptop that had been donated as part of one of the lockers. Parents also use the computers to keep friends and relatives abreast of the latest medical news about their loved one.

“They’re definitely utilized by both the patient and the family,” said Lisa Boland, manager of Child Life Services at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn.

The electronic items that Tillman delivers to the hospitals have been donated or purchased with funds raised via his Cornerstone Foundation. Those interested in making a donation to the Charles’ Lockers program can send it to 4 East Ogden Avenue #801, Westmont, IL 60559.

Boland estimates that every day about 30 children use the $12,000 worth of electronic items that Tillman donated to Advocate Children’s Hospital in July 2011.

“Being a child in a hospital is very difficult,” Boland said. “It’s not their normal environment. It’s not a normal situation for them. So having those things available to them—things they probably have at home—they can now do in our hospital due to the fact that he’s donated that wonderful locker to our patients.

“For the kids who don’t have opportunity to utilize an iPad or a laptop at home, it’s very exciting when we’re able to walk into their room and offer them one of the many things that the locker houses. Just to see the smiles brought to their faces is awesome.”