appy Birthday, Mama. I don’t have any money, but I love you. So Happy Birthday.”
November 14, 1980. Helen Louise Hilburn’s birthday. Jeff, her second of three sons, expressed his sentiment as the family prepared for a weekend trip to Norfolk, Virginia, to visit relatives. It would be a difficult time.
But most of Jeffs life had been hard. The Smithfield, North Carolina. fifteen-yearold had been confined to a wheelchair for eight years. Duchenne’s dystrophy, the fastest progressing type of muscular dystrophy, was first diagnosed when he was six.
As time moved forward the disease weakened Jeff to almost an invalid state. His IQ was normal, but his capacity to function physically was almost nil as he approached his teens.
However, Jeff never feared. For as a child he had accepted Jesus as his Savior and Master. His mother recalled: “Many times when I listened outside his door to check on his welfare I’d hear his pleas to Jesus to heal others, to give him love for mankind, to give him courage and faith to accept things that apparently couldn’t be changed, and for Jesus to protect him.”
The gentle, freckle-faced youth seldom complained. But he witnessed for Christ often, be it in a hospital, a doctor’s office, or elsewhere. His pastor, the Reverend R. Reid Huffman of the Smithfield Church of God, said Jeff “always showed a wonderful spirit of love, and his faith and trust in God were no secrets. He suffered much, but he trusted God through it all.”
“Sittin’ Duck” (Jeffs citizen’s band radio handle) touched the hearts of fellow CB operators, senators, doctors, nurses, and relatives. He also impressed officers at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in Goldsboro, North Carolina, where he was given VIP treatment on a special visit. There a lifelong dream came true when Jeff was flown in a Cessna by an Air Force captain.
Countless sketches of planes and cartoon characters resulted from Jeffs artistic ability. His two companions, Charlie Brown and Jasper, dachshunds, seemed to understand that their master was helpless in many ways, and thus were protective of him.
Of his many interests, Jeffs eyes would light up brightest at the mention of visiting kin. The November 1980 trip to Norfolk was no exception. On Saturday the fifteenth, Jeff and several relatives enjoyed a visit to the zoo. But by nightfall, he was weaker and more tired than usual, his face unusually pale.
The Hilburns took Jeff to the hospital, where he was immediately given oxygen. Though appearing to respond well to treatment, the curly haired teen was transferred to Kings Daughters Children’s Hospital.
About 3 a.m. Sunday, Jeff suffered respiratory failure and emergency procedures were instituted. There was much probing, blood work, the inserting of tubes and needles. His respiratory system failed again, and there were two seizures. He was put on a respirator.
Jeffs condition rapidly worsened as he slipped into unconsciousness. The doctors did not think he would leave that state. But his mother prayed, “Please, God, if You desire to take my little boy, I beg of You, bring him back to us for just a little while!”
Returning to ICU, the Hilburns were met by the attending physicians. Jeff was being removed from the respirator; only the oxygen cannula remained. As they talked, a nurse rushed to the Hilburns, saying their son was calling for them.
Jeff said, “Please Mama, please no more! Don’t let them do it to me again. Promise me,” he pleaded, looking at the heart monitor, ventilator tubes, and other equipment.
“At that moment,” Mrs. Hilburn later said, “I felt the presence of the Lord. I knew I had received my answer.”
Jeffrey Christopher Hilburn died on Wednesday morning, November 19, at seven o’clock. The doctors and nurses stood at the foot of his bed, the nurses silently weeping as if in awe of a sensitive power which was present. It took that power-the presence of Jesus-to console the Hilburn family through the days ahead.
Mrs. Hilburn said, “His Spirit reminded us many times that Jeff was not lying at the gravesite and that we can surely see him again, whole and delivered from pain and suffering, no more in a frail, crippled body.
“My brave young soldier had fought a good fight. He had finished his course. His labors were not in vain.
“God’s timing was no mistake. His purposes for Jeffs life were fulfilled. . . . I miss him more than I could speak. . . . But God, in His infinite wisdom, chose him for another ray of golden sunshine in paradise.”
From June 8, 1981