Opera Singer Sings with Donated Lungs

Above: Soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick’s TED talk about surviving her harrowing journey with life-threatening pulmonary hypertension. At about 15 minutes into the talk, Tillemann-Dick, a two-time double lung transplant survivor, sings the aria “Je veux vivre” from Gounod’s Roméo et Juliette.

Despite the persistence of the proverbial “fat lady” as the iconic image of opera singers everywhere, making it on the opera stage requires astronomical physical stamina and psychological strength. In other words, you’ve gotta be fit as a fiddle and tough as nails.

All was going fine for soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick, except the occasional fainting spell that she ascribed to low blood pressure, until in 2004 a routine physical revealed a big problem — advanced pulmonary hypertension, according to a profile of Tillemann-Dick in The Washington Post. The disease, which restricts blood flow to the lungs, could potentially kill Tillemann-Dick, now 29, and her dream of sustaining a career as an opera singer.

The story of Tillemann-Dick’s journey with her life-threatening condition and her return to the stage is equal measures harrowing medical ordeal and inspiring testimonial to the power of the human spirit. Tillemann-Dick’s medical treatments have included two double lung transplants and a continuing medication regimen involving dozens of pills each day. 

But at every stage of her treatment, even when her vital organs were failing, even when her body rejected the first pair of transplanted lungs and even when she was put on life support as she awaited her second lung transplant, Tillemann-Dick set her sights on her dream to sing.

And today, she’s singing strong.

Read more: Singing Opera with Someone Else’s Lungs (WP)

  • Cindy Gaillard

    The most amazing story. I’m surprised the audience didn’t stand for an ovation…I was by the end of her performance!

    • Jennifer Hambrick

      Hi, Cindy – Isn’t she incredible? Truly inspiring. I’m glad you enjoyed the story!