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Social media helps connect organ donors to recipients

November 23, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
About 6,000 people died waiting for an organ transplant last year, and tens of thousands more are currently on the waiting list. How far would you go to help a friend? What about a stranger? Thanks to social media, those in need are finding out.

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

"I was desperate. I didn't know what to do," said Roxy Kurze, whose husband needed a kidney. Roxy's husband Jeffrey had a bad kidney. "He was always in pain. It was just really hard seeing him suffer."

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.

"What got me though is that she said she needed a Type-O," said Ricky.

He's a friend of Roxy's friend with the right blood type. Ricky volunteered to donate a kidney to Jeffrey.

After six months of testing, the transplant was a success. Dr. 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," said Koffron.

In May, Facebook enabled an option that helps users register as donors and share their donor status to deepen the donor pool.

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. Another man posted on Twitter and 19 people offered to help, and he got a kidney.

But can social media attract enough donors to shorten the long waiting list?

"The more people know the dilemma and how to fix it, the more people that could be fixed," said 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.

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

Some of those who doubt Facebook's current effort will work believe it could be successful 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.


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