Facebook change excites area transplant program doctors

Any steps to close organ donor gap are beneficial, transplant program leaders say

Dave Franzman
Published: May 2 2012 | 6:25 am - Updated: 31 March 2014 | 6:34 pm in

More than 160 million people in the United States use the Facebook social media site. And now every member will get a chance to promote organ donation, and sign up to become an organ donor if they’re not already.

Transplant programs around the country, including the one at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, have about 114,000 people total on a waiting list for an organ transplant. Just 28,535 organs were transplanted last year—leaving an obvious donation gap. And members of transplant programs say if social media can help close the donation gap, it would radically change the situation.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg broke the news about using social media to encourage organ donation on the ABC “Good Morning America” program Tuesday morning. Now, Facebook users can go to the “Timeline” section of the site and add stories about the importance of organ donation, or click a button and get directed to each state’s donor registry site to sign up.

Dr. Christopher Blosser, a kidney specialist and member of the U of I’s transplant team, said reaching a much larger audience to encourage organ donation is exciting.

“As I think about this from a practitioner’s perspective — increasing awareness and changing the culture of what we think about giving a gift to another person -- that culture shift, that game change, is a very big deal,” Dr. Blosser said.

Dr. Blosser and the other U of I physicians in the transplant program transplanted about 450 hearts, livers, kidneys and other organs last year. Nationwide, fewer than 50 percent of adults over age 18 have signed up as donors in traditional ways, like checking a box on a driver’s license registration. He sees involving social media as the biggest organ donor recruitment tool improvement in years.

“I think it’s a sizable potential. I’m very excited about what this could mean for the future of transplant,” Blosser said.

Encouraging Facebook members to make their organ donor intentions know in a public way could help transplant programs with another problem. Legally, it could be considered evidence of consent to organ donation.

Even if a loved one hadn’t signed up as an official organ donor, it could tell family members that is what he or she would have wanted if it comes time to make an end-of-life decision.

To learn more about the Facebook organ donor program, click here.

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