Charles Tillman showed his appreciation for some injured veterans last Saturday at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital by personally delivering a gift that will keep on giving.
The Bears cornerback visited the hospital’s Spinal Cord Injury Center to speak with patients, sign autographs and unveil a “Charles’ Locker” filled with iPads, notebook computers, DVD players, portable game systems and other electronic handheld games.
“To have Mr. Tillman here means everything,” said Dan Zomcheck, the hospital’s associate director. “It means so much for the veterans. I think it’s great that someone who’s really recognized as a Chicago hero doing what he does is supporting our nation’s heroes here at the VA.”
Zomcheck felt the most meaningful aspect of Tillman’s visit was that he took time out of his day to spend time with the veterans, saying: “The thing that our patients love most is having folks, celebrities, people they know come here and recognize the service that they gave to our country.”
Tillman has now delivered seven lockers through his Cornerstone Foundation. He launched the program in December 2009 with two lockers at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Other 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.
The sixth locker was unveiled in 2012 at the Darnall Army Medical Center in Fort Hood, Texas, where Tillman spent part of his youth while growing up the son of an Army sergeant.
The lockers are designed to help hospital patients pass the time during recovery and treatment. 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 cardiomyopathy and needed a heart transplant to survive.
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.”
“I honestly think that if Tiana never would have gotten sick, I probably would have never come up with the locker launch,” Tillman said last Saturday. “But because she did, I feel like we took something negative and we turned it into something positive.”
The locker at the Edward Hines Jr. VA Hospital, which is located 12 miles west of downtown Chicago, is expected to touch the lives of more than 55,000 patients and their families.
“A lot of people don’t think about us,” said Joe Tompkins, one of the patients at the Spinal Cord Injury Center. “When the wars are over, we are actually forgotten, in my opinion. This means a lot for somebody of [Tillman’s] stature to come out here and do this. He doesn’t have to do this.”
Tillman had a message for injured veterans who think they are forgotten: “It’s sad that happens, but I’m here. I haven’t forgotten about you. That’s why the foundation is here. We appreciate you all for what you have done and here’s a locker. Please accept this on our behalf and enjoy it.”
The lockers are sponsored by Fifth Third Bank.
“One of our core philanthropic endeavors has been supporting military families and our veterans and the servicemen and servicewomen who support our country by sacrificing so much,” said Fifth Third Bank vice president and managing director Tim Hannahs.
“That’s something that’s been a core component of what we do as an organization. So we felt it was a perfect match when Charles and Jackie came to us with the idea for the foundation to expand the locker program from the children’s hospitals to a military hospital, so Hines was a great fit for us.”