It’s fitting that Charles Tillman discusses his family’s serious health scare in a recent interview on the website “Life of Dad,” which bills itself as the first-ever social network for fathers.
Both Tillman and “Life of Dad” creator Tommy Riles have daughters who were born in 2008 with congenital heart defects and had to undergo life-saving heart surgeries. The two men have since collaborated on raising awareness and funds for those suffering from congenital heart defects.
In the interview, Tillman recalls the first thoughts that raced through his mind when he was told that his three-month-old daughter, Tiana, was suffering from dilated cardiomyopathy and needed a heart transplant to survive.
“There is so much emotion running through you,” Tillman said. “You are in shock. You are in awe. You are like, ‘Wow. Is this really happening to me? Is she going to die? A heart transplant? She is sick?’ I had a million thoughts. I was trying to process them all at one time.
“I remember the doctor telling me the news. I lost it. I went to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I literally just broke down. I absolutely lost it. I broke down as if she had already died. Then I took a deep breath and splashed some water on my face. I slapped myself in the face. I looked in the mirror and said come on. I was actually having a conversation with myself. It was a conversation between Charles and Peanut. We were having a dialogue.
“I am telling myself to get it together. You have to take care of your family. Man up. Let’s go. From that point on I tried to be the man I could be and protect my family. I was trying to give them that security of everything was going to be okay.”
Tillman was told about his daughter’s condition after then-Bears coach Lovie Smith pulled him off the practice field and instructed him to go to the hospital immediately. In the “Life of Dad” interview, Tillman is asked what advice he’d give parents who receive the same devastating news.
“The best advice that I can give is accept it.” Tillman said. “What you are going through is your new normal. Once you accept that fact that your kid has a congenital heart defect and that they will need surgery you will be thinking how am I going to do this? With the demands, the crazy schedule, and the tubes you adjust. You will adjust. It will become your new normal like anything else.
“You can live a normal life. Your child will be able to do things. Maybe not everything that the other kids are doing, but for the most part your child can live a normal life. You got to be happy and take trips. Everything will be good. That is my advice. It is hard to accept that reality when you first hear that news. I remember waking up every three hours to give my daughter her meds when she got out of the hospital.
"The first year or two were really tough. You just get used to it. It wears on you from time to time, but in the end if she is alive you are like, 'I don't care what it takes. If I have to wake up in the middle of the night to give her some meds that is the least of my worries.' You start to see the bigger picture. My daughter's heart defect made me grow up more and see life in a different way."