Preserving health after organ transplants

Since the end of the 2008 season, Halas Hall has seen its share of new team members roaming the hallways from offensive lineman Frank Omi and free safety Josh Bullocks to returning player, Kevin Jones. I am looking forward to when we’ll all be back on the field to begin our training for the upcoming football season and hopefully Super Bowl XLIV.

It was during training last May that I found out that my little girl, Tiana, suffered from cardiomyopathy, a congenital heart defect that would require a heart transplant. Our family was devastated, fearing Tiana wouldn’t survive until her first birthday.

But, Tiana is a member of a unique club and is one of the nearly 100,000 patients in the United States and 4,600 in Illinois on the waiting list for an organ transplant who was fortunate enough to receive a transplant. The number of organs available for transplantation is scarce, and every day 17 people die waiting for an organ. When a person like Tiana receives the gift of a vital organ, every effort must be made to preserve that gift.

As a leading transplantation surgeon and expert on post-transplant care, Dr. Benedetti’s viewpoint on the need for physicians to be in control of their patients care management plan needs to be considered by all parties. Transplant patients are a unique and vulnerable population and have multiple medical conditions and medications. Only a patient’s physicians and transplantation team are the most qualified to make decisions about what treatments fit a patient’s condition and lifestyle.

Post-transplantation care is dedicated to maintaining the health of the organ to prevent rejection and to the lifelong management of the overall health and survival of the patient. Organ rejection occurs when the transplant recipient’s immune system attacks the transplanted organ. It remains a threat throughout the life of the recipient and constantly needs to be managed with immunosuppressant care.

As critical dose drugs, immunosuppressive therapies have a narrow therapeutic margin for safety and efficacy. Small changes in dosage can lead to significant consequences for patients, including death. When a physician finds the treatment that works the best for his or her patient, not only have you given the patient the gift of life with an organ transplant, but you’ve also given them the tools they need to live a healthy and vibrant life.

New legislative action in the form of the Organ Transplant Quality Assurance Act (HB 0152) will make it feasible for patients to stay on the therapy regimen their physicians have developed. This Act, sponsored by Representative Susana Mendoza, (D-1st District) prohibits insurance companies from limiting, reducing or denying coverage of immunosuppressive drugs to transplant patients. It ensures that treatment decisions affecting transplant patients are made by the physician and patient care team.

Thanks to friends, family and, most importantly, Tiana’s care team, we were able to celebrate Tiana’s first birthday in February and reflect on what was both a difficult and joyous year.

Dr. Benedetti, Representative Mendoza and I strongly support this Act and encourage others to recognize the critical nature of transplant patients and the need for this legislation. Support of this bill will help transplant physicians continue to provide their patients with the vital treatment they need to live long and fruitful lives.

Charles "Peanut" Tillm
Chicago Bears player
Father of Tiana Tillman


Enrico Benedetti, MD
Warren H. Cole Chair in Surgery
University of Illinois at Chicago