Friday, December 23, 2011

Using Social Media to Find Organ Transplants

I am pleased to post this guest article by Elaine Hirsch.

Patients in need of organ transplants battle their lives day-to-day waiting for a transplant. Unfortunately, the current process for facilitating organ transplants is inefficient and often unfair; patients must be sick enough to qualify for an organ but not so sick that the transplant procedure itself might kill them. With over 100,000 people in the United States waiting for an organ, the risks of dying before organ transplant are all too real. Experts, including PhD program professor and author Steven Levitt have been very vocal about the need for reform in the organ transplant market.Some people waiting for organs have turned to social media to find their own donor rather than sit idle on the United Network for Organ Sharing, better known as UNOS, the national waiting list.
According to UNOS, 6,521 people died in 2010 while waiting for an organ. Some could have been saved if living donors had given bone marrow, a kidney or part of their liver to them. One of the reasons for such a shortage is that some organs, such as hearts and lungs, can't be donated by living donors but must come from cadavers. Recipients who have a family member whose blood type and other criteria matches theirs can bypass the waiting list and undergo a living donor transplant. Those who don't sometimes turn to social media outlets to advertise their needs. This type of appeal to others for donation works best when a child needs an organ, or if the person is well-known in their community (physical or virtual). It's also easier to find someone to donate bone marrow than it is to find someone to donate part of their liver, a far more invasive procedure. Federal laws prohibit the sale of organs, so money is not supposed to change hands in these transactions.

Advertising that you need a kidney on Facebook may seem unusual, but 30- year-old Melissa Foster got 100 people to come forward as potential kidney donors by asking on her Facebook page. While prospective donors still need to undergo a rigorous qualification process, including medical and psychological testing, Foster still may have put herself one giant step closer to receiving a kidney by asking for one on a social network.

Another slightly more conventional way to find a donor when no one in your family qualifies works like a chain reaction. People needing liver transplants who don't have relatives with their blood type find other people waiting for transplant in the same situation. If the donors match, the two families exchange donors. These chains can grow to four or five people, until everyone has a match.

Social media is a way to reach many people with little effort. Many people will donate an organ once they learn of a specific need, particularly if the person is appealing in some way, such as a child. But therein lies the risk and the concern about the ethics of advertising for a donor. What happens to people who are less physically or emotionally appealing? Should organ donation be based on the recipient's ability to market themselves? Ethicists continue to debate these questions, but people waiting for organs don't have time to lose debating.

About the author:
Elaine Hirsch is kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites, including and writing about all these things instead.

“You Have the Power to Donate Life – to become an organ and tissue donor Sign-up today!
Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”
Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register
New Zealand, register at Organ Donation New Zealand
South Africa,
United States,
United Kingdom, register at NHS Organ Donor Register
Your generosity can save or enhance the lives of up to fifty people with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants (see allotransplantation). One tissue donor can help by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves
Has your life been saved by an organ transplant? "Pay it forward" and help spread the word about the need for organ donation - In the U.S. another person is added to the national transplant waiting list every 11 minutes and 18 people die each day waiting for an organ or tissue transplant. Organs can save lives, corneas renew vision, and tissue may help to restore someone's ability to walk, run or move freely without pain. Life Begins with You.

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