Saving strangers through social media

About 6,000 people died waiting for an organ transplant last year, and tens of thousands more are on the waiting list right now. But how far would you go to help a friend? What about a stranger?

Thanks to social media, those in need are finding out. But is the trend only a fad?

We log on to post, like, comment, and share organs?

"I was desperate,” said Roxy Kurze whose husband needed a kidney. “I didn't know what to do."

Roxy Kurze's husband Jeffrey had a bad kidney.

Roxy Kurze
"He was always in pain,” said Roxy. “It was just really hard seeing him suffer."

When he found out he needed a new one.

"I was scared and nervous and pretty shocked you know," says Jeffrey Kurze after he found out he needed a kidney.

Like more than 90,000 Americans in need of a transplant, Jeffrey was put on the national waiting list and told he'd have to wait three to five years.

So one night, Roxy went on Facebook and posted about Jeffrey's ordeal, reaching out to online friends and acquaintances.

Within an hour of the post, Ricky Cisco responded.

Ricky Cisco
Donated kidney
"What got me is that she said she needed a type O," explains Ricky Cisco who donated a kidney.

He's a friend of Roxy’s friend with the right blood type. The two met the next day, and Ricky volunteered to donate a kidney to Jeffrey.

"She didn't know what to say at first," explains Ricky.

After six months of testing, the transplant was a success. Doctor Alan Koffron was part of the transplant team. He believes Roxy's desperate post sparked one of the first instances of social media leading to an organ transplant.

"She started a whole phenomenon," says Dr. Alan Koffron.

In fact, on May 1, Facebook enabled an option that helps users register as donors and share their donor status with others to increase awareness and deepen the donor pool. It seemed to be a hit. Most days in California, 70 people become organ donors. On May first, 4,000 signed up. To date, Facebook officials tell us more than 300,000 users have changed their status to organ donor. People aren't just donating through Facebook, a friend of Ricky's.

Another man posted this on Twitter. Nineteen people offered to help, and he got a kidney. But can social media attract enough donors to shorten the long waiting list? Doctor Koffron believes it's possible.

"The more people who know the dilemma and how to fix it, the more that could be fixed," says Dr. Koffron.

But other transplant experts have been quoted as saying the effort has not really "moved the needle." States that saw those huge surges dropped back down to their normal levels within one week. Still, Facebook's effort continues and is expanding to users in more countries, and people post to various pages asking for help, for themselves or loved ones every day.

"People from around the world have reached out to us," says Roxy.

Roxy, Jeff, and Ricky continue their own efforts to raise awareness about organ donation.

"A lot more people are more comfortable looking into it and going through with it," says Ricky.

Jeffrey can't thank his wife, or donor, enough.

"So grateful,” says Jeff. “I love them both so much."

From being strangers to Facebook friends, to something even better, "They're family now,” says Ricky. “I got some new family members out of it."

Changing and saving lives through social media.

Some of those who doubt Facebook's current effort will work believe it could work if the site kept the issue fresh in users' minds every day.

Transplant experts recommend real-time Facebook updates on the growing number of registered donors in every state, allowing donor registries to advertise for free on the site, and the development of an annual day to celebrate registered organ donors.

Saving strangers through social media
REPORT #1933

ORGAN DONORS: There is no age limit to register as an organ donor, but if a person is below the age of 18 years old they must have parental consent so people should let their wishes in regard to organ donation known to their family. There is also no set age limit for when a person's organs can no longer be used for transplantation. Living donors, people who donate a kidney or a part of an organ, often donate to a family member because of the increased likelihood of a match. However, living people can also donate to friends or even strangers if they want to, but must undergo extensive question to ensure that they understand the risks and are not doing this for financial gain. Donors are neither charged for the transplant nor are they paid for it. (Source: Mayo Clinic)

ORGAN ALLOCATION: The Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network (OPTN) was established in 1984 and the organization coordinates organ donation and allocation throughout the United States. A central computer network with the potential recipients and available organs uses an algorithm to determine which recipients are offered the available organs first. The factors considered include the blood type of the potential recipient and the donor, urgency of transplant, the size of the organ (child vs. adult), how long the recipient has been on the wait list, and the geographic location of the donor and potential recipient. There is some controversy over whether or not the recipient criteria is "fair", and some say age, expected benefit, culpability, citizenship, and the recipient's ability to pay should also be criteria. (Source: University of Missouri School of Medicine)

ROLE OF SOCIAL MEDIA: Facebook has not only started a campaign to boost organ donations in the United States; the social media website is moving the campaign to Mexico and Canada as well. With the feature, people can let others on the website know they are a registered donor and those who are not are directed to the official registries where they live. Between May 1st to the middle of September, 275,000 Facebook users posted their donor status, although the number went back down. It is thought that the feature was successful because people tend to be more easily influence by their friends than doctors or strangers. Only time will tell how popular this feature will be for Facebook users and whether or not it will help bridge the gap between the number of people in need of a transplant and the number of donors. (Source: NPR)

For More Information, Contact:
Brian Bierley
Beaumont Media Relations Coordinator
(248) 551-0743
bbierley@beaumont.edu


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