BOISE - In February of 2014, Mark Williams' liver was shutting down.
"I guess if you could feel like you were dying, I guess I felt like I was really dying," Mark said.
At the same time, Melissa Cranston Thorne had a severe asthma attack.
"They were able to revive her, but she never regained consciousness," said Melissa's mother, Cheryl Flanders.
Mark got the call that a donor had been found, and it hit him.
"While I'm celebrating here, there's a family suffering out there," he said.
Cheryl says her daughter passed away at age 36 on Valentine's Day of 2014, leaving behind a young son she adored.
"She was the type who would leave flowers on your doorstep for your anniversary," Cheryl said. "She was that kid. She was always thinking of other people."
The doctor told Mark that Melissa's liver was the perfect match for him. The surgery was a success.
"The minute I woke up I felt like a new person," he said.
He would then write a letter to Melissa's family expressing his deep gratitude for the gift she gave him.
The letter included these lines:
"I hope that someday, through the family, I can learn more about the angel who will be a part of my life for the rest of my life. I want to remember that a part of someone special is living inside me. A second chance to see my children grow, a second chance to share many more years with my wife. Even though I have not yet met you. I feel like we are all related, your family and mine."
Cheryl read the letter and received its message with intense gratitude.
"And it was one of those moments where you go, I've got to meet this man," she said.
A while later they did meet.
"The door opens, there's Cheryl, there's Marcus behind her," Mark said. "We just both start bawling and we just embraced each other."
Over the last three years, a connection born of illness and loss has grown into a friendship rooted in love and respect.
"Mark and (Mark's wife) Elizabeth and their family keep Melissa alive for me," Cheryl said. "Not just because he has her liver and he's alive because of that, but because he honors her name, he speaks about her."
"There's some sort of connection there," Mark said. "I feel good when I'm around these people."
They both believe Melissa is still around in spirit. Take, for instance, the barbecue chips incident at a get together of the two families.
Mark kept eating the chips one after another. He'd never been a huge fan of barbecue chips, but he couldn't get enough.
"It's like these are the greatest chips I've ever had in my life," he said. "And [Cheryl] says those were Melissa's favorite chips."
Then there is what happened while they were spreading Melissa's ashes in the ocean off the Oregon Coast.
Melissa's family was there along with the Williams family.
"And we all look out in the water, and it's like, is that the letter M?" Mark said.
The ashes appeared to form the letter M, with Melissa's favorite flowers pointing to it.
"It was surreal," Cheryl said. "She was there."
And these two families are there for each other, brought together by a daughter's life-saving donation.
"What beauty and peace come into your life knowing that your loved one gave that gift," Cheryl said.
"I have a beautiful family," Mark said. "I have a beautiful life, and Melissa's gift of life allowed me to continue that."
If you would like more information on organ, eye and tissue donation and how to register as a donor, you can visit the Yes Idaho! website.
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