About 6,000 people died waiting for an organ transplant last year, and tens of thousands more are on the waiting list right now. 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?
Roxy Kurze’s husband needed kidney
"I was desperate. I didn't know what to do. He was always in pain. It was just really hard seeing him suffer," said Roxy.
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.
"I didn't want to lose my husband," said Roxy.
So one night, she went on Facebook and posted about Jeffrey's ordeal -- reaching out to online friends and acquaintances.
"Who's a type-O?"
Within an hour of the post, Ricky Cisco responded.
"What got me is that she said she needed a type-O," said Ricky.
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," Ricky explained.
After six months of testing, the transplant was a success.
"I've never heard of anything like that," said Dr. Alan Koffron.
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," he said.
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 1, 4,000 signed up. To date, Facebook officials tell us more than 300,000 users have changed their status to organ donor.
But people aren’t just donating through Facebook. Some people use Twitter. Another man tweeted he was in need of an organ and 19 people offered to help. He got a life-saving kidney transplant. But can social media attract enough donors to shorten the long waiting list? Koffron believes it’s possible.
"The more people who know the dilemma and how to fix it, the more that could be fixed," he said.
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.
"People from around the world have reached out to us," Roxy said.
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," Ricky said.
Jeffrey can’t thank his wife -- or donor -- enough.
"So grateful. I love them both so much," he said.
"They're family now. I got some new family members out of it," Ricky added.
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.