Social media boosts organ donations

Facebook feature spurs signups in Ohio, throughout U.S.

Thousands of Facebook users have signed up to be organ donors, thanks to a new feature on the social networking site that makes it easier to register.

The new option was announced in early May by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as a way to boost the number of potential organ donors.

The tool gives users the chance to share their organ donor status and leads people to their local donor registries.

By the end of the first day of Facebook sign-ups, 6,000 people had enrolled through 22 state registries, according to Donate Life America, which promotes donations and is working with Facebook on this initiative. On a normal day, those states together see less than 400 sign up.

Donate Life America reported that online donor designations increased tenfold during the six days following the announcement of Facebook’s organ donation initiative.

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More than one month later, representatives of organ donation organizations in Ohio say it’s important to continue to raise awareness about this feature.

Facebook campaign’s impact on Ohio

Ohio saw a five-fold increase in online donor registrations in the first 48 hours following Facebook’s announcement, said Cathi Arends, director of community relations at Life Connection of Ohio in Dayton.

“I was thrilled to learn Facebook had developed a tool allowing users to register in their state registry and share their organ donor status,” Arends said.

“With more than half of Americans age 13 and up on Facebook, the potential is there to reach millions of people. Facebook is all about engaging friends and family in conversations and activities.

Anything that will increase factual information sharing, support for organ and tissue donation and donor designation is a great thing for society.”

Typically, 20 to 25 people in Ohio register online as organ donors each day, said Andi Johnson, director of public affairs at LifeCenter Organ Donor Network in Cincinnati.

On Tuesday, May 1, 241 people registered online in Ohio.

“While we saw a dramatic increase in donor registration in the first days following the announcement, just a month later we are seeing much lower online registration rates comparable to numbers prior to the unveiling,” Arends said.

According to LifeCenter Organ Donor Network’s most recent available data (as of Wednesday, June 6), from Sunday through Thursday, May 13-17, there were 228 Ohio organ donor registrations.

“Ongoing information sharing through social media, print and broadcast media and grassroots efforts is critical,” Arends said.

Importance of organ donation

More than 114,000 Americans currently are on waiting lists for transplants of kidneys, livers, hearts and other organs, according to United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the organization that runs the nation’s transplant system. More than 6,600 died last year waiting for an organ.

“There is a great need for more people to designate themselves as donors,” Johnson said. “ ... I think it’s just something that people should do to leave a legacy. It’s an opportunity to help another person in need who needs a second chance.”

According to UNOS, 43 percent of adults in the U.S. are registered as donors.

Organs can only be used though under certain circumstances, such as when someone dies from a major head injury and a ventilator can keep the organs viable.

Less than one percent of U.S. deaths annually are under such circumstances.

And sometimes the opportunity is lost because family members didn’t know about the person’s wishes on organ donation.

Amy Moeder, marketing coordinator/public relations at Community Tissue Services in Kettering, said she hopes Facebook’s new feature continues to motivate people to become organ donors.

“As a donor, you can save and enhance the lives of more than 50 people,” she said.

“It’s really important for people to understand the importance of donation and to be able to share their decision in regards to donation.”

How to register to be an organ donor

Most people register as organ donors when they get a driver’s license, but about 2 percent sign up through online registries. Both represent legal consent for adults.

Ohioans can register online at www.Donate LifeOhio.org or can contact Life Connection of Ohio at (800) 535-9206 to request a mail-in enrollment form.

Facebook users in Ohio can share on their Facebook Timeline when they registered as an organ donor or, if they haven’t signed up yet, the tool links to the Ohio Donor Registry online so they can join the more than five million Ohioans who have said “yes” to organ and tissue donation, Arends said.

Johnson said Facebook’s new feature keeps the conversation about organ and tissue donation on a platform where thousands of people are talking about the issues impacting society in real time.

“This is important to keep talking about because we need more people to designate their decision to be organ and tissue donors so that more lives will be saved and enhanced as a result of donation,” she said.

“Facebook is a tremendous tool to reach so many people virally and to now have the opportunity to display one’s donor designation on their page and share it with their Facebook friends helps create a movement that says being an organ and tissue donor is the right thing to do.” 

The story contains information from the Associated Press. Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2122 or Jacqueline.Boyle@ coxinc.com.

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