SMU Student Has Heart for Kids Battling Heart Defects

Jeffery Kelley, a freshman at Southern Methodist University, was born with a congenital heart defect and has spent most of his life fighting to overcome the challenges it presents.

Now, he's fighting to help kids like him and their families do the same.

"When I recovered, I decided all this has been laid in front of me -- I'm going to do something about it," said Kelley.

At only 16, Kelley had open-heart surgery to repair his heart, which was rapidly enlarging.

His father thought he could use an uplift -- so he sent a few emails to people he knew at SMU, the university Kelley had grown up idolizing, asking if they'd send his son some notes of encouragement.

Not even in their wildest dreams could they imagine what happened next.

"It was insane," said Kelley. "From those three emails [my dad sent], I received no less than about 2,000 cards, letters, emails, videos of support from around the country."

Family, friends, complete strangers -- even Tiger Woods got in on the action. And as if that wasn't remarkable enough, SMU great Eric Dickerson, SMU Head Football Coach Chad Morris, and former SMU Head Basketball Coach Larry Brown all sent him notes as well.

Kelley was completely stunned. And it got him thinking. 

"I knew I was sick, but I didn't think there was anything extraordinary about what happened to me," said Kelley. "I didn't feel like one person should be getting all of this attention."

He wanted to pay it forward -- and that's when he decided to start Jeffrey Has Heart, an organization that would help families of kids with congenital heart diseases cover travel costs and other expenses they incur.

Kelley recalls that during the week of his surgery, he and his parents essentially had to move to Dallas so they'd be close to the hospital. That meant shelling out about $1,500 just one hotels, food and parking fees.

"I remember lying in my hotel bed and hearing my parents have a conversation out in the hall about how are we going to pay for this? This is way too much. We don't know what we're going to do," said Kelley. "And I remember thinking, I really want to do something about this when I get the opportunity because this is obviously a need."

Since launching Jeffrey Has Heart, they've raised about $30,000 to help families. Kelley is hopeful it will continue to grow.

"It's one thing to have a nonprofit -- it's another thing to lead it," said Kelley. "And I'm hoping that my time here at SMU will teach me how to lead it."

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