Facebook’s new-life saving tool that helps people become organ donors evolved in part out of a note the company’s COO Sheryl Sandberg read on her college reunion newsletter.
Sandberg, a Harvard grad, told ABC’s “World News” anchor Diane Sawyer that her fellow alumni write “passages about their lives” ahead of reunions and she read one by Dr. Andrew Cameron for the class’ 15th reunion.
Cameron is the head of liver transplants at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “He wrote about the patients who die waiting for organs and talking to their families about, ‘We’re so sorry. We don’t have an organ to save your husband, your father, your daughter, your son,’” Sandberg told Sawyer.
“This was hugely meaningful for me,” she said.
It would take another five years before Sandberg would be in the position to take action.
“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.’”
According to Sandberg, Cameron helped Facebook work with the medical community during development of the tool.
“Our dream is to save lives. … If enough people register and enough people start donating, this is a problem that we could dramatically decrease,” she said.
There are currently more than 114,000 Americans waiting for organ transplants that could save their lives, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. An estimated 18 people die each day while waiting for an organ transplant.
“The organ donation crisis is not a medical crisis, it’s a social crisis,” Sandberg said. “It’s a solvable problem with existing technology. These patients don’t have to die if enough people donate.”
She added, “I think one of the things Facebook does is it gives us real identity. You know, when you see someone on Facebook, you don’t see a name on a list. You see them.”
However, when it comes to solving problems like unemployment, Sandberg looks away from Facebook and toward education.
“You know, it used to be a generation ago that you could get the best education no matter who you were as an American, comparable or better than anywhere in the world. The data shows quite clearly that that’s no longer true,” Sandberg said.
“We’re failing our children. And then as they grow up into adults, we fail them again. And this is something I think we all are united, that we absolutely have to fix for the future of our country, for these children who just deserve better and for our economy.”
For Sandberg, who grew up in a family of doctors, working to help other is something that is in her blood.
“My father is, both my brother and sister are physicians. And the concept of working, you know, to save lives was something that, you know, I was brought up with,” she told Sawyer. “My first job out of college I worked at the World Bank and I worked on leprosy and other medical problems in India. And so, you know, for me it’s always been really important to try to do things that help other people.”
Sandberg says she hopes the new tool inspires other people to leverage Facebook to solve social problems.
“The power of Facebook is that people step forward and try to help other people and save lives,” Sandberg said. “If this leads to an outpouring of ideas from all over of other ways people can use Facebook to save lives, that would be terrific.”
Note: There is no age minimum or maximum for being an organ donor.