The heart of the matter


Then and now: Tina recreates an image captured by the Daily Tar Heel during Alj's initial PICU stay 13 years ago.

Alj and his mom, Tina, have but one wish this holiday season: a new heart for Alj. Mother and son currently occupy a room on 5 Children’s, a dedicated team of medical experts keeping him stable until a donor heart becomes available for transplant. This is their story.

The young man in room 5C24 is sitting upright in his hospital bed playing a video game, the picture of health. Somewhat slight in stature for a 13-year-old, Alj (pronounced “Al Jay”) Jeffries has radiant cocoa skin and warm, dark chocolate brown eyes. When asked a question, he is quick to offer a polite, soft-spoken response in a voice that is perhaps deeper than you might have expected. And almost always, he’ll flash that shy smile. It’s a smile that will steal your heart. And therein lies the irony.

To look at him, you’d never guess Alj is losing his 13-year battle against heart disease. His only hope of long-term survival: a heart transplant.

“He’s kept me calm through this whole storm,” says his mother, Tina Turner, a constant presence by his side, steadfast in her faith that the life-saving miracle for which they’ve been waiting will come in time. Continue reading