Charity Tillemann-Dick, the aspiring opera singer who was known as “Sunshine,” has died at the age of 35. Charity received two transplanted lungs during her life. She was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary hypertension at 20. The condition causes oxygen to not be absorbed into the body, which puts more stress on the heart.
Wright wrote on Facebook, in part, “Our hearts are broken. In this moment, the world is dark. But Charity’s rays extend far beyond her tragic finale on this earthly stage. Her light continues to illuminate the hearts of thousands and, in that way, Charity is with us always. She is our hero. We love her.”
Charity his survived by her husband, Yonatan Doron, and, her parents and her 11 brothers and sisters.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Charity Had Her First Lung Transplant in 2009
In 2012, Charity, a native of Denver, Colorado, told CBS News about her first lung transplant in 2009 saying it was an emergency procedure. It was made worse when the lung didn’t take. Thankfully, after a period on advanced life support, a second match was found in 2012.
Charity released a book about her life, “The Encore,” in October 2017.
Among those who pay tribute to Charity on the singer’s official website is former Second Lady of the United States, Jill Biden, who said, “Like any great performer, Charity Tillemann-Dick captures her audience’s heart right from the beginning. Her journey follows an improbable course from the majesty of the great Rocky Mountains, to the glittering concert halls of Europe, to the quiet rooms of grief and death. But she doesn’t end there. This intimate view into a courageous woman’s long, dark night will remind you of the stars that light your bleakest hours, and make you grateful for every sunrise.”
2. Charity Said in Her Final Instagram Post That She Always Felt ‘Pretty Normal’
Charity’s final Instagram post was posted on March 8. In it, Charity wrote that although people have referred to her as “scrappy” and “strong,” she regarded herself as “pretty normal.” Especially when compared with other women in the world who inspire her. Charity wrote in part, “I see mothers who sacrifice sleep for years to care for children. I see kids who lost both of their parents and rise above it.” She said in the post that she felt those people were “remarkable” and “incredible women made of grit and spit and grace and loveliness.”
On her Instagram bio, Charity wrote described herself as a “Music maker. Story teller. Kitchen maestra.” Charity’s final Twitter post appeared to be an endorsement of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren for president.
3. Charity Befriended & Performed With the Daughter of the Woman Who Donated Her Lungs to the Singer
In October 2017, Charity performed with Esperanza Tufani at the Cleveland medical summit in front of an audience of doctors and medical executives. The Associated Press reported that Tufani was the daughter of the woman who had donated her lungs to Charity. Charity told the AP that Tufani’s mother, an immigrant from Honduras, had died at the age of 48 after suffering a stroke. She added that her and Tufani became friends after the singer sent Tufani a letter of thanks. The pair then became friends.
Charity and Tufani performed a song, “American Grace,” that Charity had written in dedication to the woman who donated her organs. Tufani told the AP at the time, “I always wanted to have sang with my mom, but I didn’t have that relationship with her. Getting to do that through Charity, it’s amazing. She doesn’t really realize how much of an impact she’s had on my life.”
4. Charity Said That She Did Everything Possible to Avoid a Lung Transplant
Charity told CNN in a 2017 interview that she was studying opera in Hungary when she was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary hypertension. Charity told the network that she worked “tirelessly” on her vocal training at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. She said that against doctor’s advice, she continued to sing.
In an attempt to avoid having a transplant, Charity said that she had liquid medication pumped into her heart 24 hours a day. 2009, Charity’s health had deteriorated to the point where a transplant was necessary. Charity told CNN that her surgery lasted 14 hours during which time she had to have 40 quarts of blood transfused. Following the surgery, Charity was in a coma for 34 days. When that transplant didn’t take, Charity said that she prepared herself for death. It was only in 2012 when she received a second transplant, that the singer began to live again.
5. Charity Grew Up With 11 Siblings in a Mormon-Jewish Family
On her official website, Charity says that she grew up as one of 11 brothers and sisters in a Mormon-Jewish family in Colorado. That bio says that Charity lived in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband.