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Charles Tillman Brings Christmas Early for Rush Children's Hospital
December 20th, 2012

Thanks to Bears cornerback Charles Tillman and his Cornerstone Foundation, Christmas came a week early for dozens of sick children and their families at Rush Children’s Hospital in Chicago.

As they’ve done at other area hospitals the last several years, Tillman and his wife Jackie hosted their annual holiday party Monday at Rush. They passed out gifts to appreciative patients and also posed for photos, played games and made ornaments with the kids.

“The party went very well,” Tillman said. “We did some arts and crafts. We went to the pediatric intensive care unit and got to share a little holiday cheer with some kids in that department. It was good. We got to see a lot of families and meet a lot of administrators, nurses and doctors.”

Last year the Cornerstone Foundation’s holiday party was held at Loyola University Medical Center’s Ronald McDonald Children’s Hospital in Oak Park.

“It’s very rewarding for me,” Tillman said. “It’s not their fault that they’re in the hospital, especially around Christmas time. I feel like each kid should have the opportunity to be a kid and sometimes being in the hospital can hinder them from accomplishing that. So we step in and say, ‘I know it sucks that you’re here and we’re sorry that you’re here, but we’re thinking about you.’”

Seeing children who are struggling through serious medical issues forget about their problems for a couple of hours brought a smile to the face of Lisa Kappy, a certified child life specialist at Rush.

“It was nice to see the kids get really excited and want to sit down and do a craft with a football player,” she said. “The event went very well. All of the families and patients had a really good experience and a really good meeting with Charles and his wife.”

Few pro athletes can relate to patients and their families in a children’s hospital like the Tillmans.

In 2008, Charles and 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 nearly four months around the clock at Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

“When I go into a room and talk to a family, one of the first questions I ask is: ‘How are you doing? How are you feeling?’” Tillman said. “I feel like I’m able to say, ‘I know how you feel. I remember feeling the same way when the doctor told me such-and-such.’ 

“It could be someone you just met, but because that person has gone through the same thing that you’ve gone through, you can relate to them a little bit more and it’s easier to talk to that parent. You empathize with these parents and what they feel and what they’re going through.”

The connection between Tillman and the families was evident to Kappy.

“I saw that in how he approached every patient’s room and how he was mindful of asking, ‘Is it not a good time? I’ll come back,’” Kappy said. “When most people visit the kids, it’s usually one room to the next regardless of what’s going on. Charles made sure it was an OK time for the kids and an OK time for the families.”

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

Tillman is very thankful to fans who paid for the holiday party by purchasing “Peanut Punch” t-shirts that celebrate his knack for forcing fumbles. The shirts were created by the satirical sports website “The Heckler,” which donated $5 to the Cornerstone Foundation for each shirt it sold.

The total donation was around $10,000, which provided for the fun and games. 

“We played a little bit of Rock Band,” Tillman said. “We did some decorating with Christmas ornaments. There was one little girl who spoke Arabic and didn’t speak any English, so trying to communicate with her was pretty fun. She didn’t know what I was saying, but I got her to smile.”


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Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation
736 N. Western Ave #322
Lake Forest, IL 60045
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