Facebook wants to make it easier for its nearly 1 billion members to sign up to become organ donors. In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced today the addition of a new tool on Facebook that will allow users to share their organ donor status with their friends.
Users can add that they are organ donors to their Facebook timeline, and share their story about when, where or why they decided to become donors. If a user is not already officially registered as an organ donor, the new feature gives them a link to the appropriate donor registry in their state.
The new tool lets Facebook users click a button on their timelines to indicate that they want to be organ donors in the event of their death. They can also post a status or video explaining why they made that decision.
Here's how the tool works:
Users can go to their timeline, click on "Life Event," select "Health and Wellness," and add the new option "choose Organ Donor." Then they can add where and when they registered and include a personal story, picture or video.
Zuckerberg told ABC News' Robin Roberts that the initiative aims to bring the power of social media to a problem that continues to plague organ transplantation -- too many people who need organs and not enough who donate.
"What we hope will happen is that by just having this simple tool, we think that people can really help spread awareness of organ donation and that they want to participate in this to their friends," Zuckerberg said. "That can be a big part of helping solve the crisis that's out there."
Currently, there are more than 114,000 Americans waiting for kidneys, livers, hearts and other vital organs that could save their lives, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. But only a small percentage of those patients actually find suitable donors and get the transplants they need. Just over 28,000 organ transplants were performed in 2011. Every day, an estimated 18 people die waiting for an organ transplant.
The problem is a familiar one to Dr. Andrew Cameron, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore and one of the inspirations for Facebook's new donor status option. He has witnessed the supply-and-demand problem that leaves many patients without the organs they desperately need.
Cameron, who graduated from Harvard College, wrote about the shortage of organs for transplant in his Harvard Reunion Class report, a book in which alumni can tell old friends what they've been doing since graduation. Cameron was about to go to his 15th reunion.
One of the former classmates who read Cameron's entry was his college friend Sheryl Sandberg, soon to be Facebook's chief operating officer.
"Well, fast forward to just under a year ago, at our 20th reunion, Sheryl was now COO at Facebook, and with this really powerful communication tool in hand, we crossed paths again," Cameron told ABC News. "She said, 'I remember what you wrote last time and I think Facebook can help with the problem of organ donation.'"