ASHLAND -- In 2007, Mark Hamilton was ready to die.
"I didn't want to, but I was prepared," said Hamilton, an Ashland University professor and pastor at the Providence Church. "If it hadn't been for Alex's liver, I would have."
Hamilton received the liver of Alex Searls, 17, of Zanesville, who died Nov. 2, 2007, after an accident on an all-terrain vehicle.
Alex's family donated his organs to Lifeline of Ohio the day Alex died.
In 2010, the Searls family and Hamilton met.
"It was pretty overwhelming," said Gracie Searls, Alex's grandmother. "When I gave Mark a hug, I felt like I was hugging Alex."
Alex was able to help more than six people with his organs, eyes, tissue, skin and bones.
Hamilton is the only organ recipient who has contacted the Searls family. They said they couldn't be more pleased to know that Alex's organs helped save so many lives.
"He's such a sweet guy," Gracie Searls said of Hamilton. "He and his family came to the balloon launching and party we give each year on Alex's birthday. It was so good to see them and have them there at that time."
Alex's mother, Jamie Searls, said she felt close to Alex when she met Hamilton.
"It helps to know that something good came out of Alex's death," Jamie said.
Hamilton said he wanted the Searls family to know how much he appreciated the donation.
"I look forward to visiting them," Hamilton said. "The primary thing my wife, Pat, and I wanted to accomplish by meeting them is to let them know we support them and are available to them. It didn't seem enough to just say thank you."
Hamilton had been diagnosed with liver failure in September 2007.
"They determined that E. coli had built up in the fluid in my body and caused an infection in my liver, which made it go into complete failure," Hamilton said. "For six weeks I had an infection, was being tested for a possible transplant and informed the only way I would survive is to have a transplant."
Hamilton came close to dying three days prior to receiving the liver, he said.
"My liver shut completely down and a vein burst," Hamilton said. "I don't remember any of it, but the doctor said that would be about the closest I'd ever come to actually dying."
Hamilton's life wasn't safe even after the transplant. He suffered from a blood clot traveling to his right eye, which is now blind, developed a staph infection, pneumonia and in December 2007, had a heart attack.
"But it seems to be all over now," Hamilton said, laughing. "I've gotten better and was back teaching five months after getting out of the hospital."
Hamilton said his family, like the Searls family, is close and he lives for them and his teaching.
"My faith helped me through the hard times," Hamilton said. "I will admit, my faith was challenged, but never lost."
Hamilton and his family have grown close to the Searls family.
This spring, Hamilton's daughter, Kristen Tobias, is expecting a baby boy and plans to name the child Alexander.
"I think it's a perfect tribute," Hamilton said.
While families of those who donate organs are not given the names of the recipients, Lifeline does make sure the families are given some details of the person receiving the gift. If the receiver wishes, communication between the two families is made available by Lifeline.
The Searls family knows one of Alex's kidneys was transplanted into a 27-year-old single man who wanted to return to college and swim again. He had been on the waiting list since April 2005. The other kidney and pancreas were transplanted into a 44-year-old married man with two stepsons who enjoys all types of sports. Alex's heart was received by a 67-year-old retired machinist who enjoyed woodworking and his family of three children, eight grandchildren and a new great-grandchild.
Alex's thyroid was recovered for research, while bone grafts and soft tissue were transplanted in many different surgical specialties, including neurosurgery and orthopedic surgery. Skin was used primarily as a bandage for adults and children who lost their own skin due to burns or other surgeries and vessels were recovered and used in patients with blood vessel disease when synthetic grafts were not able to be utilized.
Two people may have benefited from Alex's eyes through the Central Ohio Lions Eye Bank.