November 5th, 2010
11:02 AM ET

Human Factor: A young soprano, hope and reality

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.

I grew up with two adoring parents, lots of brothers and sisters to play with and a caring community that took an active interest in my future. Home was happy and crazy. When Zen was 6, I was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. Our dad died suddenly when Zen was 11. As our family’s magical world became more complicated, Zen’s craziness was markedly less jubilant.

Zen came to the Cleveland Clinic for Thanksgiving last year. I couldn't walk or talk; when I saw him tears rolled down my cheeks. On New Year’s Day I was home, weighing 95 pounds and very weak. Within a month, I could sing. But it wasn't the same. Singing used to give my abs a decent workout, but it was easy. Now I gasped for breath. It was frustrating. I collapsed on the bed in tears. Zen came in. "What's your problem?" he asked. "I'll never sing like I did before," I sobbed. "You're so stupid!" he said, slamming the door.

“Teenagers just don’t get it!” I groused.

Then I heard Zen in the hall: "Mom, Charity's such an idiot! Her voice is already better than 99.9 percent of people in the world and she's only been able to talk for a few weeks! These things take time and she just needs to have a little patience!"

He did get it. Zen had waited patiently through my health crisis. Now, it was my turn. I started to paint. I spent a lot of time with Zen. We studied, we sang and we hung out.

Yesterday, I performed for 1,500 people. My voice isn't the same. I‘m still working out the rough edges. But, somehow, it’s better than it was. And so is Zen. He's working out the rough edges of adolescence. We didn’t get out of this experience. We grew through it. Thanks to a young woman in Texas who decided to be an organ donor, our hopes grew into reality. People like her are hope in millions of homes, to millions of people, waiting and dying every day.

Zen will be 14 tomorrow. He’s pretty tall now. This time, I hope we’ll all be there to sing.

Charity Sunshine Tillemann Dick is a soprano from Denver, Colorado. You can follow some of her adventures here. Zenith Wisdom Tillemann Dick is her little brother. You can follow some of his adventures here.

Filed under: Mind and body • Women's Health

soundoff (11 Responses)
  1. Johnson

    What a remarkable story and what a gorgeous voice. I hope we get to see more of Charity soon.

    November 5, 2010 at 15:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Dolley

    What an inspiration! It makes me want to live my own life with greater passion and more gratitude.

    November 5, 2010 at 15:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Connie

    AMAZING! What a wonderful story! I hope you are well!

    November 5, 2010 at 15:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Janice

    Where can we hear her sing? Is she performing any time soon?

    November 5, 2010 at 18:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Jeremy

    Just saw this story, brings tears to my eyes, what beautiful lunguistics. Am grateful to be Dr. Cooper's son.

    November 5, 2010 at 20:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Ryan

    WOW!!! If you think the video is amazing, youshould hear this young woman in person!!! I was fortunate enough to hear her amazing story and her amazing voice on Wednesday night in Dallas. Amazing things can happen through organ donation, Charity's story is just one of many awesome and amazing stories that come from donation! Charity your performance in front of the National Learning Congress in Dallas on Wednesday evening was amazing, I was at a complete loss of words and your story brought tears to my eyes. Just amazing!!!!!

    November 6, 2010 at 00:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Anne

    I was there in San Diego and i cannot articulate the power of this girl's voice and her story. Remarkable all around.

    November 6, 2010 at 04:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. notmyrealname

    It's amazing to read about this young woman's determination to overcome a debilitating illness after looking at the posts from the lazy slackers about how to 'call in sick' when you're not really ill and still avoid being fired.

    What a work ethic this woman has! I know from personal experience how difficult it is to recover one's voice after recovering from an illness that affects the lungs or the vocal cords. My thoughts are with Charity.

    November 6, 2010 at 17:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Softship

    I was diagnosed with a rare lung disease in 1999: Lymphangioleiomyomatosis. I received a double lung transplantation in 2003. No, I cannot sing – but I never could. But I do lead a "normal" life with work, intercontinental travel.

    Very often – but especially when I'm doing something unusual or whenever the anniversary of my transplantation rolls around – I remember who made my current life possible: the donor of my lungs, a young woman and her family.

    I can only plead with everybody reading this: be an organ donor! There is no better way to endear you to the hearts of many people – those receiving your various organs, as well as their loved ones. They will all be thinking of you, taking a part of you with us wherever you go.

    You will not be needing those organs wherever you go when you leave this life. Please leave them for someone else to love and appreciate!

    November 7, 2010 at 02:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Emily

    I knew Charity when we both lived in Italy, a couple years before her lung transplant. She was amazing then, too. Truly a woman who is larger than life and doesn't let obstacles stop her from living her dreams. Keep it up Charity!

    November 7, 2010 at 23:44 | Report abuse | Reply
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