A few years ago, a friend of mine had to deal with the frankly un-deal-withable situation of watching his father die of liver failure. Sometimes he got a little better, and then it wasn’t quite so bad for a while, before it got worse again. Regular dialysis kept his body functioning, but he was never going to really get better from that or any other treatment. He needed a new liver.
The waiting list for organs is long and the number of donors is small. Unhappy with the frankly lousy odds of a good match becoming available, my friend decided just to donate his father half of his own liver. No surgery is without risk, and organ donation is a major surgery with a long recovery and often lifelong consequences to the donor’s quality of life.
Fortunately, both of them survived the surgery. More fortunate still, my friend eventually made a full recovery with no major decrease in his overall health, while his father had a new lease on life. It was the best possible outcome, and, depending on where you start counting, a months- or years-long ordeal.
The funny thing is, organs are not actually a rare resource. The number of people needing transplants every year is substantial, but the number of people who die every year and whose perfectly healthy organs are allowed to die and decay with the rest of their body is much greater. The organ shortage could actually be solved instantly, but unlike something like, say, world hunger, or climate change, the solution is not only known, it’s very easily accomplished.
We don’t all need to give up one meal a week, or buy hybrids. We just need to sign a little piece of paper that says our organs can be used to save a life in the event of our own deaths. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s not like we’re using them at that point. Yet previous campaigns have failed to move enough individuals to take this simple step. Enter Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer.
According to ABC news, it was a story in her college alumni newsletter that alerted her to the scope of this problem, and she realized it essentially came down to getting the word out — which is exactly what social networks are great at doing. She made contact with the former classmate who had written about his concern: a transplant surgeon named Andrew Cameron, and she connected with him, explaining her plan.
The plan is simply an app, something that goes on Facebook users’ profile pages — their timelines — and invites them to share when and why they chose to become an organ donor. Other users can download the app and see other people’s stories, and, perhaps more significantly, are given the option to become organ donors themselves, when the app directs them to their state’s online registration.
This is likely the key component, simplifying the whole campaign into a number of clicks. It’s one thing to get people thinking about organ donation, it’s an entirely different story to immediately present them with an opportunity to alleviate the problem. Streamlining the process, presenting that next step, is critical. We all realize, I’m sure, that the easier you make it for someone to get involved, the more likely they are to do so.
Cameron thinks that doubling the current percentage of adults registered as organ donors could essentially meet the current demand. It’s actually possible that this could happen in a day or two, if the Facebook campaign went viral. After decades of previous unsuccessful attempts, there’s the possibility that it could really be that easy. Ain’t technology grand?
Want to do your part? Download the app, share this article far and wide, and, oh yeah, register as an organ donor. Let’s see how quickly we can save 100, 000 lives.
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