Charles Tillman's Holiday Celebration at Rush Children's Hospital|
December 6th, 2012
Later this month, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman and his wife Jackie will make an unbearable time a little more bearable for dozens of sick children and their families.
Through their Cornerstone Foundation, the Tillmans will host an annual holiday party at Rush Children’s Hospital in Chicago. As they’ve done at other area hospitals the last several Decembers, they’ll pass out Christmas gifts and participate in hospital activities such as bingo.
“For the kids to meet somebody they’ve heard of, they’ve seen on TV, who’s famous and coming to see them, it just brings cheer to their day,” said Robyn Hart, director of child life services at Rush. “On that one day at least for that time it’s actually good to be in the hospital.”
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 great to see the reaction on the kids’ faces,” Tillman said. “They’re not in a great place being in a hospital for Christmas. I feel like it’s unfair for a child not to enjoy Christmas, so we’re just trying to spread a little holiday cheer. Let a kid be a kid. It’s not their fault, so you should never take that away from them.”
Rush Children’s Hospital has 54 beds. For the kids who are too sick to participate in the party, Tillman will go visit them in their rooms.
“It’s nice to see the kids excited and happy because most of these kids are really sick and have been there a while,” said Jackie Tillman. “Just to take their mind off their illness or what they’re there for for that moment is big for us.
“The holiday party is special because Charles does visit each family in their rooms and interact, which is a big deal for a lot of the kids. We also bring them gifts, which is a big deal because they’re in the hospital on Christmas. It lights up their day and their faces and their families.”
While many athletes visit children’s hospitals, few can relate to the patients and their families 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.
“That’s what makes it so different for us because we did live there,” Jackie said. “You see the kids whose parents aren’t there every day and the kids that are alone. It becomes very real. It’s very different when we go to [visit] a hospital because that was our life.”
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.
“I think their experience with Tiana made them uniquely sensitive to the issues that other parents are going through,” said Hart, Rush’s director child life services. “They also recognize that not everybody has the resources they do and they’re incredibly generous in offering their support.
“Charles and Jackie are just so personable and so sincere and I think that comes across to the kids and to the families. It’s wonderful for parents to be able to see their kids being kids and doing something pleasurable in the midst of the torture they’re enduring. It makes them feel special.
“As a hospital, we appreciate the partnership [with the Cornerstone Foundation] so much because they’re able make this a better time for the kids and their families, and without that partnership we couldn’t do it.”