“Oh my God my daughter is going to die and I’m just going to have one child.”
This was the thought of Carolina Panthers cornerback, Charles Tillman, when doctors came into the hospital room and told him and his wife, Jackie, that their daughter Tiana was diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy and might not make it through the night.
She did make it and that forever changed Charles and Jackie.
“Oh my God she is going to live, she is going to be amazing and life is going to carry on. Oh, she is not that sick, she will be alright and okay.”
However, doctors then told the Charles and Jackie that Tiana needed to receive a heart transplant to live.
“It was and emotional roller coaster,” Charles said.
Some days were harder than others. There were days when nothing but positive thoughts came through his mind, when other days, negativity settled in. However, mentally Charles had to take control of his mind to push through for his family and Tiana.
“We become what we think about” is a strong phrase Charles deeply believes in and knows that if he thinks positive the result will be positive.
Dealing with Tiana’s situation was tough, until one day, Charles was speaking with a former coach who told him, “You know how your coach has faith in you to lock down a receiver, well you have to have the same faith in God. Think of it as you are the coordinator and God is the DB (defensive back) tand the receiver is the medical situation (a heart transplant), well you have to have faith in the DB to lock the receiver (situation) down.”
These words helped Charles to understand and realize that he could handle the situation his family faced and everything was going to turn out fine.
“I was all positive from there on out,” Charles said.
The positivity showed, as doctors found a heart for Tiana. Tiana’s surgery was successful, but, the struggle came back for Charles and Jackie as they knew that another infant child had passed away which allowed Tiana to live.
“It was bittersweet when you get the phone call that an organ was found for your child. That we found a heart. The first second you were like ‘yeah, yeah, yeah, she is going to live,’ but literally a second later, you are like ‘someone just lost their child, someone just lost their baby.’ I can’t imagine what that family is going through.”
After the surgery, Charles and Jackie had to met the family of the little boy, baby Armando, whose heart now gave life to Tiana.
“I wanted to hear stories about him,” Charles said. “I wanted my daughter to know what transpired in her life at such an early age.”
Having already gone through so much as young parents, Charles and Jackie had seen the struggles other parents with sick children. The time and long commitments these parents put in, struggle to pay bills, stay emotional strong and care for their other children.
The Tillmans decided to use their resources to give back and help families who were struggling.
“Wherever I am, I’m just going to try to spread love and serve others,” Charles said. “Seven years ago a family was selfless enough and they served us. This mom, Magali, she blessed us.”
To give back, the Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation was established and through the Foundation, ‘The Tiana Fund’ was born.
Being the Tillmans were based in Chicago at the time, The Tiana Fund started here, partnering with eight hospitals. Through The Tiana Fund, families in-need, or at-risk persons are provided with economic assistance that aides in caring for themselves, imporving their quality of life and stability and security.
These families are selected through a group of applicants and money to help these families are sent to the group, paying a mortgage, a doctor bill, to ease the burden of payments the family needs to make.
However, this season, Charles signed a one-year contract with the Panthers.
With the move, Charles and Jackie now had the opportunity to help another community, the Charlotte region, by establishing The Tiana Fund at the Levine Children’s Hospital.
To launch the new outlet, The Charles Tillman Cornerstone Foundation held its first benefit in the Charlotte Region this past Monday night, January 11th, at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.
“Magali served us, so now we are trying to keep that cycle going and just serve everybody else,” Charles said.
The was a great turnout and support from individuals in the surrounding Charlotte community and his Carolina Panthers teammates. All shared their respect and support for Tillman and his foundation.
Panthers All-Pro linebacker, Luke Kuechly, has seen how Charles has become a member of the Charlotte community.
“He has integrated himself into the city,” Kuechly said. “This outreach he is doing right now he’s going to make an impact in Charlotte.”
Kuechly also stressed how much himself and the rest of the Panthers respect Charles. “We are team and everyone has each other’s backs and it is a great opportunity to show our support for Charles.”
Two players, Jared Allen and Greg Olsen had a unique perspective on Charles, having been teammates with Charles in Chicago.
Allen and Charles are great friends, as Allen stressed, “I’ve developed a relationship with Charles over the years, playing with and against him, a good friendship, so anytime you can support a good friend, you take that opportunity.”
Olsen however, has a different type of connection with Charles.
Olsen’s son, TJ, suffers from a congenital heart defect where the left side of his heart is severely underdeveloped, called hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Therefore, Charles and Olsen connected more than just as teammates supporting each other, but through their children.
“With everything that he has gone through with his daughter and everything we have gone through with our son, we formed a connection we understand what they are trying to do to give back. There is an incredible health care system here in the Carolinas and the Carolinas are fortunate that Charles and his family have come here to help raise money,” Olsen said.
The Panthers defensive secondary also has grown more than on the field since Charles has come to Charlotte.
“We try to come out when our teammates have an event, as it is like a family thing,” fellow cornerback Josh Norman said. “We came out to show love to Peanut, Peanut Tillman, as it was a great event he was doing.”
When you talk about Peanut, he is a man that embodies what it is to be a professional player, a dad, a husband, a great friend. I have only got to know Peanut for this brief year, but I feel like I’ve known Peanut for a lot longer than that,” first year Panthers Kurt Coleman said. “He’s really made the transition to Carolina for myself, a lot easier and we are here to support each other.”
Again, Coleman stressed how the secondary and team is a family.
He said, “This is a family, so when you are talking about your brother putting on a charity event that’s doing so much for so many people, we want to be there to help this community out, to help him out and really show for him that we are there no matter what.”
Charles and Jackie are not ones who take things for granted and are grateful for what they have and the support.
“When one guy has something, we all have something. We try to support our brothers and tonight I have an unforeseen amount of support and I’m grateful for that. And it just goes to show the type of character and men we have on this team,” Charles said.
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