When Charles Tillman donated a “Charles Locker” at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge in June, the Chicago Bears cornerback left behind more than just iPads, computers and electronic games.
Visiting the room of a 10-year-old Barrington girl who was in a coma, Tillman lifted the spirits of Grace Dominick’s parents, Liz and Patrick. Tillman related what he had experienced after his young daughter was diagnosed with a heart disorder and urged them to celebrate small accomplishments.
“It was such an out-of-body experience being in the hospital and watching your child struggled to stay alive,” said Liz Dominick. “[Tillman’s visit] was the first time we could smile. It was someone who had gone through a very traumatic experience with his own child, and we felt hope. It was the first time that we truly felt that there was hope.
“He spent about an hour with us, just talking about Grace. It was the first conversation that focused on what she would do when she got better, not if she got better, because no one would ever tell us if she was going to wake up.”
Tillman was at the hospital to deliver the eighth “Charles’ Locker” on behalf of his Cornerstone Foundation. The lockers are designed to help patients and their families pass the time during recovery and treatment.
Tillman came up with the idea after enduring a medical nightmare in 2008 when 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.
“I really just tried to convey [to the Dominicks] that inches are good, small things are good,” Tillman said. “Don’t expect her to wake up from this coma or to walk out of the hospital the first thing tomorrow. But if her oxygen goes up from 60 to 65, that’s an inch and we’ll take an inch.
“I was just trying to give them examples of what happened with Tiana. For her to swallow, for her to get her tube out, for her to get off a machine and breathe on her own, that’s an inch but that’s huge. Little stuff like that adds up. The message was just chip away and all those little chips end up making a big impact in the end.”
Grace was in a coma after having a severe asthma attack. She originally was taken to an emergency room in Barrington and then was rushed to Advocate Children’s Hospital, where she spent 14 days in the intensive care unit.
“Upon arrival we were told that she had to be put on a ventilator or she would die,” said her mother. “Things got progressively worse, and they didn’t know what happened and how to stop the downward spiral.”
Two days after Tillman’s visit—on Father’s Day—Grace came out of the coma and was able to breathe on her own. Over the course of the summer, she eventually made a full recovery.
In October, Grace was a special guest at Tillman’s Celebrity Waiter Night, where her parents shared her story with those in attendance. At the time, her mother recounted what Tillman’s visit to her daughter’s hospital room meant to the family.
“What’s so moving about that experience is that he spent an hour with us,” Liz said. “He held Grace’s hand. He talked to her. And then after the fact he stayed in touch with us. He would call or text to see how she was doing. He was really invested and didn’t have to be.
“He’s truly one of a kind. On the field and off the field he is such an amazing person and role model and truly a gift to our community. When we needed it most he came into our lives and I truly believe it wasn’t just a coincidence that he was there. We needed what he gave us and that was hope.”