Boy Who Spent 99 Days in ICU Waiting for Heart Transplant Meets Donor's Family
After spending 99 days in the ICU, this North Carolina boy's life was changed forever when he received a heart transplant.
But the real shock of his life happened four months after the transplant, when he got to meet the family of the girl who died so he could live.
13-year-old Albert Jeffries, known to friends and family as Alj, met the family of Katelyn Zimmerman at Carolina Donor Services in Durham Monday — four months after Alj was granted a life-saving heart transplant, and Katelyn gave up her organs in a fatal car accident.
"My heart was pumping so fast," Alj told InsideEdition.com. "I was emotional."
In a Facebook Live video of the event, Alj could be seen sobbing as Katelyn's surviving family members took turns listening to her heart now beating through his chest using a stethoscope. His mom, Tina Turner, spent the afternoon hugging and kissing the Zimmermans, whom she now considers their extended family.
According to Katelyn's grandmother, Charlene Sweigart, the 14-year-old was spending some time at her Florida house that March Sunday when, suddenly, the she said, "Mama, I want to be an organ donor."
"It came out of the blue," Sweigart from Hernando County told InsideEdition.com. "It gives me goosebumps every time I think of it — for that to be the last statement out of her mouth. It's like she almost knew something was going to happen."
Three hours later, Sweigart received a call from the children's father, Shawn Zimmerman, telling her that there had been an accident.
Katelyn and her younger brother had gone out biking, and were on their way home when they were hit by a drunk driver.
Katelyn's twin, Savannah, was at a friend's home when she said she suddenly got a horrible feeling, Sweigart said.
Savannah heard sirens, and immediately began running home, calling her dad on the way, before she discovered her twin and younger brother both lying on the pavement.
They were taken to the hospital, where Katelyn died that night. Dylan, 13, died a month later.
When doctors asked family members if they were considering donating their organs, Sweigart immediately said to their parents, "I want to tell you something. We are here for Katelyn and Katelyn said she wanted to be an organ donor. Do it for her."
They signed the papers without hesitation.
Little did they know, they were about to change the lives of a boy who lives a couple states away.
Alj, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, has been in and out of the hospital all his life. He suffered from cardiomyopathy, and on days he was not undergoing tests and treatments, he had a hard time playing with other kids since he was always out of breath.
Turner, told InsideEdition.com that during the 99 days he spent in the ICU, she thought, "I was about to lose Alj."
His health was taking a grim turn when suddenly, she received a call that doctors had found a matching heart donor.
She posted to Alj's Facebook page, "Teamalj's journey with a new heart," that even though he was excluded from most of his childhood games, his new heart transplant will allow him to finally ride a bike.
That was Sweigart's first sign that she found the boy who was given her granddaughter's heart.
The next sign came to her in a dream, where she said her dog was growling at her bed, and she believed she saw a vision of Katelyn, who "had a big smile on her face, as if to say 'Thank you for doing this, Mama.'"
The 64-year-old then started following Alj's story closely, and became one of the boy's 6,000 supporters via Facebook.
For months, she battled the decision to message Turner. Her son begged her to reach out, and finally, earlier this month, Sweigart said she was compelled to write out a message and hit send. She turned her computer off immediately, and refused to check for the rest of the night.
"I lost my mind," Turner said, when she received the message during dinner. "I cried so hard at that restaurant, my girlfriends had to walk me out and console me. At that moment, I realized that I found my donor."
Over the following weeks, the pair chatted on the phone regularly until they scheduled a day to meet.
"When I first met them, my heart was so full of joy," Turner said. "I was just overwhelmed. Without them, Alj would not be here."
Except for Savannah, Katelyn's surviving family members took turns listening to the heart before they released white balloons and butterflies in memory of Katelyn and Dylan.
The families exchanged presents, including a plush heart Turner presented to the Zimmermans that contains a recording of Katelyn's heartbeat.
"Katelyn was such an extraordinary person," Sweigart told InsideEdition.com. "She's my hero, and she's alive with his help."