"She was there," said the girl's grandmother. "I can feel the love of Katelyn"

By Stephanie Petit
Updated August 02, 2016 02:30 PM
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The family of a 14-year-old girl who was killed by a drunk driver found peace when they heard her heart beating inside a young boy.

In March, Katelyn Zimmerman and her brother Dylan, 13, died after being hit by a car while riding their bicycles near their home of Inverness, Florida. But Katelyn told her grandmother the very day of the accident that she wanted to be an organ donor.

“That was the last thing she said to me, and I want to see her wish come true,” Charlene Sweigart told Today.

Sweigart shared Katelyn’s wish with the girl’s dad, Shawn Zimmerman, and he agreed to donate her organs.

Soon after, the story of a young man from North Carolina whose life was saved by a heart transplant made the news. Sweigart immediately knew this was no coincidence.

Katelyn’s heart went to Albert “Alj” Jefferies, a boy diagnosed as a baby with cardiomyopathy, a chronic heart disease which leads to an enlarged heart and eventual heart failure. The condition also claimed the life of his sister at age 19. Alj was able to have a fairly normal childhood though he couldn’t run or play sports, but his health took a turn when he was 12 years old.

Alj’s heart failed, but doctors were able to reverse the problem. However, the boy returned to the hospital with the same issue by the end of 2015. At that point, doctors added him to the heart transplant list.

“We were really starting to lose hope,” said Tina Turner, Alj’s mother.

Katelyn’s heart was donated to Alj in a life-saving surgery days after the accident. Alj had been in the hospital waiting for a heart for 99 days.

Sweigart followed Alj’s story on Facebook and shared her hunch with with Katelyn’s father. He encouraged her to reach out to Turner.

Although organ donors and recipients are not encouraged to contact each other, Sweigart sent Turner a message on Facebook. The two began communicating.

The families, including Katelyn’s twin sister, Savannah, finally had an emotional meeting on July 25 at Carolina Donor Services in Durham, North Carolina. Katelyn’s family was able to listen to their loved one’s heart beating inside Alj’s chest.

“She was there,” said Sweigart. “I can feel the love of Katelyn.”

Alj shared a letter with the family and gave them hearts that had a recording of Katelyn’s heartbeat.

“Thank you for a second chance at life. There were times when I couldn’t breathe, and couldn’t walk without breath. I needed a miracle,” he wrote. “Katelyn, thank you for being my miracle.”

“Katelyn gave her heart to Alj so he could be alive and it gave us peace. She is not dead. She is living in everyone who got an organ from her,” Sweigart said.