Thursday, June 24, 2010

So, what does an inspirational character look like?

I think inspirational characters come in all shapes, sizes and colors. And, this ... this is truly one of the most inspirational characters I've ever heard about.

Charity Tillemann-Dick was only 4 years old when her parents took her to see her first opera.

More than 20 years later, she has performed at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music and the National Palace of the Arts in Budapest, Hungary, the Kennedy Center in Washington, and at several music festivals in Italy. But last month, she sang for a different kind of audience. It was an audience filled with the doctors and nurses at Ohio's Cleveland Clinic who performed the double lung transplant and open heart surgery that saved her life.

Noticeably thin -- but looking much healthier than she did right after the operation, when she weighed 95 pounds -- the soprano serenaded her caretakers with Puccini's "O Mio Babbino Caro". The full-bodied aria reminded her of the last six years, she said. Its heroine pursues the object of her love, despite her family's fear that it could kill her.

At 20, Tillemann-Dick was told she had idiopathic pulmonary arterial hypertension, abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs, which forces the right side of the heart to work harder than normal. It worsens over time. Eventually, her doctors warned, her lungs would give out...

...From diagnosis until weeks before her transplant, Tillemann-Dick exhausted herself on international stages. Fearful that directors would replace her, she hid her illness by wearing heavier makeup to disguise sallow skin. She tucked a cassette-size medication pump in her skirt. She didn't let on when her eyesight became blotchy. She often felt nauseated, a side effect of her medication, but she held it together.

The singer appears to have approached recovery from her transplant surgery in the same manner she battled her illness -- she would sing, no matter how awful she felt.

At a point where most patients are barely speaking, Tillemann-Dick started retrained her voice by humming. As her body strengthened, her pipes were ready for jazz, then folk, and eventually she was singing show-tunes. She's performed this summer at the Swiss and Hungarian embassies [in Washington DC].

She sang "O Mio Babbino Caro" for those audiences, too.

The aria's line, "My love for which I suffer," carried, perhaps, a meaning stronger for her now.
Here is her performance for the doctors - while she seems a little "breathless", it's a triumph for her after only 8 months of recuperation and rebuilding.

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