Local News

Donor heart bonds Triangle, Florida families

Posted July 25, 2016 5:29 p.m. EDT
Updated July 25, 2016 7:03 p.m. EDT

— Albert Jeffries, 14, known to friends as "Al-J," struggles for words to describe the girl who died so he could live.

"Thank you for the greatest gift I have ever received in my life," he wrote to the family of Katelyn Zimmerman.

Al-J, was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, or an enlarged heart, when he was four months old. He spent his childhood in and out of the hospital, and was hospitalized and kept on sustaining medicine since December.

Then came Katelyn.

She, too, was 14. Early this year, near her Florida home, Katelyn Zimmerman, was hit by a car while riding her bike. She and her younger brother, Dylan, were killed.

Their grandmother made the connection on Facebook, where she had seen Al-J's story.

"We both just knew that's where Katelyn's heart was going. We just knew," said Shawn Zimmerman, Katelyn's father.

The families exchanged messages and made a plan to meet.

"I had to do it," Shawn Zimmerman said. "For me, Savannah (Katelyn's twin) and Katelyn."

In a visit to Chapel Hill, Shawn Zimmerman and his mother got to listen to the beat of Katelyn's heart again, through a stethoscope, where it beats regularly in Al-J's chest.

His mom, Tina Turner, also heard that beat.

"Her heart beats on, and her heart beats strong," Turner said. "My gratitude can't be put into words. It's beautiful, beautiful."

Shawn Zimmerman, at a loss for words to describe his emotions, turned to action. He released white balloons into the air and turned loose butterflies, symbols his daughter loved.

The families have found connection among a world often marked by chaos, Turner said.

"We have unity and no race. There is no color in this heart. It's a heart. It's love. With all that's going on, I'm glad we got to show what unity is all about," she said.