Charity Sunshine Tillemann Dick, an American-born soprano, has performed in opera houses and concert halls across the United States, Europe, and Asia. She is also a survivor of a double lung transplant, which she received at the Cleveland Clinic in September 2009. Radio Rounds’s Imran Ali spoke by phone with her to find out more about her remarkable story of triumph, determination, and love for music.
Opera singer Charity Tillemann-Dick, aged 29, has performed in opera houses and concert halls across the United States, Europe and Asia. But the amazing thing is that she has achieved her success despite not one, but two double lung transplants - without which she would have died. She tells Matthew Bannister how she refused to let two double lung transplants get in the way of her singing.
La traviata’s Act I cabaletta “Sempre libera” is musically programmed to be sung with the full conviction on the soprano’s part that her character is dying. As soprano Charity Sunshine Tillemann-Dick sang Violetta’s showstopper at IBM’s centennial celebration at Lincoln Center last fall, she also knew she was dying. Just over two years prior, Tillemann-Dick had received her first double-lung transplant at the Cleveland Clinic, and now her body had reached the inevitable phase in which it was rejecting the foreign organ.
“I had spent my whole life training my lungs,” Charity Sunshine Tillemann-Dick told a rapt audience of health care advocates this week in San Francisco. “I wasn’t really enthusiastic about giving them up.”
My parents had a penchant for giving their kids unusual names. Zenith Wisdom, the last of 11 living siblings, was no exception. My medical drama demanded unselfishness from our big family. I hoped Zen would be spared. But when I landed in the hospital, mom would come, leaving Zen behind. Others were there who loved him, but I spent nights, thinking and worrying about his past, present and future.
Soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick — a big pre-conference reader favorite — opened TEDMED last night. She entered singing (the Health Blog isn’t an opera fan, so we couldn’t recognize the tune) and then told her story.
The conference, an event that examines novel approaches to medicine and healthcare, marks an important anniversary for the singer -- a year ago to the day she awoke from a month-long coma following a difficult double lung transplant.
More than 20 years later, the petite blonde has performed in operas across the world, at the prestigious Franz Liszt Academy of Music and the National Palace of the Arts in Budapest, Hungary, the Kennedy Center in Washington, and at several popular music festivals in Italy. But last month, she sang for the most important audience she'll ever have -- the doctors and nurses at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic.