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'I actually made it' | AlJ graduates high school five years after heart transplant

Albert Jefferies, known as 'AlJ', graduated from a Burlington high school years after he received a brand new heart.

BURLINGTON, N.C. — A major milestone for the Burlington teen who received a life-saving heart transplant five years ago.

Albert Jeffries, better known as AlJ, is officially a high school graduate.

"I was very emotional just watching him walk out on the field like this is it he’s graduating. It’s a new chapter," His mom, Tina Turner said.

"I was very close to crying with joy when I saw them up there in the bleachers," AlJ said.

It's been a long road for the 19-year-old. It's a day he and his family were not sure they would see.

"He was going through heart failure waiting on the heart. They were not expecting him to live then," Turner said.

One heart transplant and five years later, his name was called just a few days after his birthday.

His family cheered for him from the stands.

Back at home, that diploma symbolizes more than an education.

"I graduated with a five-year-old transplant heart and what you see right now it's a miracle," AlJ said, "I see that wow I actually made it and this is proof of it."

His donor--Katelyn Zimmerman is never far from his mind.

Zimmerman died in a bicycle accident five years ago. It happened just hours after she told her grandmother that she wanted to be an organ donor.

AlJ was 13-years-old at the time of the accident and sick in the hospital. He battled a heart condition from the time he was four months old.

He keeps her name on a silver dog tag around his neck at all times. He wore the necklace underneath his gown during the graduation ceremony.

"She didn't get the chance to live to see that graduation but for me, because she's beating in his heart they both walked across that stage today," Turner said.

Joining AlJ's mom and older brother at the graduation were his dad, aunt and uncle from New York.

"We were just so excited that we got a chance to see our son graduate. His dad and I are both here, especially through Covid," Turner said.

However, there was someone missing from the stands at Cummings High School--AlJ's older sister, Carissa.

She had the same heart condition that AlJ had and got a heart transplant at 7-years-old. She died when she was 19, the same age AlJ is now.

He and his family celebrated his graduation with her in mind.

"I’m at the same position as my sister was in. Looking at my dad, I want him to know that I’m gonna live a long healthy life," AlJ said.

AlJ's heart has shown no signs of rejection in the five years since his transplant.

He will never give up on his miracle from a second heart. He asks others to find it in theirs to consider organ donation, knowing he would not be here without one.

AlJ plans to head to Guilford Technical Community College and then transfer. His goal is to become a video game designer. 

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