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Latter-day Saint Opera Singer with 2 Lung Transplants Dies at 35 After a Life of Faith, Inspiration

Celebrated opera soprano Charity Tillemann-Dick not only stunned audiences with her awe-inspiring voice, she also motivated thousands to live truer, fuller, more intentional lives. On April 24, Tillemann-Dick passed away at 35 years old. On her Facebook page, her loved ones posted:

"'Life is full of death. Music, full of sorrow. Great artists have always amplified both.' —Charity Sunshine, The Encore

"This morning, life’s curtain closed on one of its consummate heroines. Our beloved Charity passed peacefully with her husband, mother, and siblings at her side and sunshine on her face.

"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."

In 2004 Tillemann-Dick was filling out an application to serve as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when she received life-altering news. Tillemann-Dick was diagnosed with an extremely rare condition—idiopathic pulmonary hypertension—that caused the arteries carrying blood to her heart to narrow. "My desire to serve a mission saved my life," Tillemann-Dick told the Deseret News. "And I think that my desire to sing saved my life again."

Tillemann-Dick's condition led to her enduring not one but two double lung transplants after her body rejected the first lung transplants. What could have been devastating for the opera star Tillemann-Dick instead viewed through a lens of gratitude.

“I am so grateful for this match [of lungs] because it’s offered me a great deal of happiness in my life," Tillemann-Dick told the Deseret News. "There’s gratitude with every breath, I think especially with a lung transplant. And there’s no way of getting around it."

As an advocate and champion of organ donation, Tillemann-Dick often shared the stories and struggles of others battling life-threatening diseases.

Through everything, Tillemann-Dick treasured her faith in her Savior and God.

 "From the time I was young, faith was a spiritual gift I was given," she told the Deseret News. "I think that’s an experience a lot of people have, feeling and wondering, ‘Where is God when I need him most?’ . . . I think he’s there but it’s not necessarily in the way or form that we think we need him. But in the end, all things do turn toward good."

In an editorial Tillemann-Dick wrote about how members of the Church can better represent the name of Jesus Christ that we bear, she shared:

"Failing to love others makes us less worthy to bear Christ’s name. Today, Latter-day Saints no longer have the burdens or the benefits of being isolated or insular. It is incumbent upon us, as Christians and as members of a global community, to reach out in sincere displays of love and friendship, uplifting those around us unrelated to church membership, political party, ability to have children or racial and cultural heritage. The integration of musical, culinary, cultural and even spiritual traditions that do not conflict with our doctrine strengthens us as a community. . . . At this time of uncertainty, we will add greater stability and joy by welcoming in those who are different — whether or not they share our pews.

"We should all minister as Christ ministered, not always among the clean, comfortable, safe and familiar but among those marginalized and forgotten. Opening our hearts and embracing the 'other' shouldn’t be an act of condescension. We must recognize that God has given the 'other' experiences, perspectives and challenges that can illuminate who we truly are. True Christianity demands it."

Lead image of Charity Sunshine Tillemann-Dick performing onstage during the Lung Transplant Project Gala on October 2, 2017, in New York City. Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images.
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