New Hope for Those Who Need a Heart

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A year and a half ago, Charles Tillman had the life he had always dreamed of - on the football field - a star defensive back with the Chicago Bears. At home, he was a proud parent with his wife Jackie to Talia, and their three-month-old baby, Tiana.

"She was essentially like most parents would say, 'the perfect child,'" Tillman said.

But everything changed one day at practice, as CNN Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, a CBS News contributor reports.

"My coach comes over to me and says, 'hey, Tiana is sick. Jackie's taking her to the hospital, you need to go,'" he said.

Become an Organ Donor
Charles Tillman's Cornerstone Foundation
Texas Children's Hospital Heart Center
Learn More About Children's Cardiomyopathy
"Berlin Heart" Saves Boy's Life

Tiana had been fighting what everyone thought was a cold. It turned out that her heart was failing. The doctors' grim prognosis hit harder than any tackle on the football field. They weren't sure if she would make it through the night.

The only hope for Tiana: a heart transplant. To keep her alive until a donor was found, doctors suggested an experimental device: the Berlin Heart.

Gupta asked, "It's not FDA approved, you say what?"

"I say, 'give it to me. I don't care,'" Tillman responded.

The Berlin Heart has been used more than 160 times in the U.S. since 2000. Each time, doctors have to get permission from the FDA, and have it flown in from Germany.

The device takes over the heart's work of pumping blood. Tubes are implanted inside the heart. They emerge from small openings in the skin to enter the pump, which sends blood directly to the blood vessels that go to the rest of the body.

"We're not just supporting the heart - we're supporting all the organs in the best possible condition so when a heart became available, it will be a successful transplant," said Dr. Charles Fraser of Texas Children's Hospital.

Fraser is running a clinical trial of the Berlin Heart. If the device is approved, he believes it could improve the chances for hundreds of children who wait for transplants.

"These are children who are otherwise normal, they look normal. Their pump has failed," Dr. Fraser said. "You should be able to provide for those children something that can save their lives."

Today, Tiana is a rambunctious toddler with a bright future, and a baby brother. After a few days on the Berlin Heart, she received a heart transplant 16 months ago.

Tillman has many mementos from his career in football. But nothing compares to the actual Berlin Heart that helped Tiana. He said the experience has changed him.

"God, family, football just in that order," Charles said. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't tell my kids that I love em, tell my wife, that I love her - and just really appreciate the time and the moment."

Tillman continues to be a star in the violent world of professional football. But Tiana has inspired him to try a new position: spokesman for organ donation, and the technology that saved her life.