The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday May 26th

13 years later, Albert Jeffries still waiting for heart transplant

<p>Courtesy of Tina Turner</p>
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Courtesy of Tina Turner

Albert Jeffries IV, known by most as Alj, is a 13-year-old boy who loves Star Wars, the Panthers and the Tar Heels, and has been fighting heart disease since he was 4 months old. Now, Alj needs a heart transplant to save his life.

He suffers from dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart condition characterized by abnormally weak function of the heart muscle. Alj’s doctor, Scott Buck, said Alj has developed progressive weakness and easy fatiguing with exertion.

“With day-to-day activities like walking down a hallway, he needs to stop to rest,” Buck said. “He’s extremely short of breath and quite weak.”

Buck said Alj’s condition is quite severe, saying he’s listed to receive a heart transplant because he has exhausted all the potential capabilities of medical management of his disorder.

Alj’s only long-term opportunity for survival is a heart transplant, and while at the highest category of severity for his condition, he’s still waiting. His mother, Tina Turner, said Alj is at the top of the transplant list, but waiting for a heart is like gambling.

“It’s a stroke of luck,” Turner said. “It could be tomorrow, it could be six months, or three years. He’s at the top of the list. We’re constantly waiting on their call.”

The seemingly endless wait has proven to be a long journey for Alj and his mother since the DTH last interviewed them in 2002, when Alj was first diagnosed with his heart condition.

“Since then, we’ve had countless amounts of doctor appointments, echoes, EKGs and a cardiac catheterization,” Turner said.

Alj’s condition worsened in 2014 when he went into active heart failure and was admitted into UNC’s pediatric interventional vascular unit where he stayed for 45 days. Alj went home after those 45 days, but Turner said as of last Saturday night he has been readmitted to UNC Hospitals.

“No matter what, as a mother, the thing I need to do most is care for him,” Turner said. “I do whatever I need to do to make sure my son survives. It’s been an honor to bring him back and forth to the hospital.”

Turner is on family medical leave right now from her job of 10 years at UNC as a nurse’s assistant to spend more time with her son.

For Turner to continue taking leave, other North Carolina state employees have donated enough hours for her to have continuous leave through March — after that, Turner said she will no longer be able to stay on continuous leave.

She created a GoFundMe page that has now raised close to $13,000 in donations. Turner said she needs people to donate so she can afford to not work and take care of Albert.

“I have dipped into those funds already to pay bills,” Turner said. “It’s not where I wanted to be right now as far as being secure enough out of work and being on leave without pay.”

Alj isn’t the only child Turner has had to hospitalize. She said Alj’s sister, Charissa Ford, was 8 years old when she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy and given a heart transplant.

When she was 18, she got sick again and needed another transplant. Before she could receive that transplant, she succumbed to her heart condition in 2007.

Alj’s sister is not alone. According to the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 50 children a year die waiting for a heart transplant due to lack of donors.

Taylor Anderton, of Carolina Donor Services, said just one donor has the potential to save eight lives and enhance 50 lives through tissue donation. But Anderton said as of Dec. 31, only 50 percent of people are registered organ donors nationally.

Registering as an organ donor could save not only Alj’s life, but also more than 300 other children in the United States who are waiting for a heart transplant just like Alj.

“Family conversation and consideration of organ donation is essential to provide this life-saving treatment,” Buck said.

While Alj waits for a heart, he and his mother will continue to push forward.

“All these years have made me strong,” Turner said. “He’s the one who kept me strong, he’s the one who inspired me. He’s been the strong one and the brave one. He’s my hero.”

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