States See Instant Spike in Organ Donors Following Facebook Push

More than 100,000 Facebook users volunteer to donate organs.

ByABC News
May 1, 2012, 5:51 PM

May 2, 2012 -- Organ donation registries in 10 states reported as many new volunteer donors Tuesday, the first day of a new initiative that allowed Facebook users to sign up to become organ donors, as they typically see in one month.According to stats from Donate Life America, a nonprofit group partnering with the social network, California alone witnessed a 700 percent increase over the number of volunteers on a typical day.

By Tuesday evening, 100,000 people had declared themselves organ donors on their Facebook profiles, a critical step, physicians said, in speeding the organ donation process because it lets families know their relatives' wishes.

Among those 100,000 users, 10,000 had linked through Facebook to sign up directly with their state organ donation registries.

Surgeons and transplant advocates have heralded the program, calling the initiative, which allows users to share their decision to donate, a "game changer."

More than 112,000 Americans are awaiting organs, and 18 people die every day from the lack of available organs, according to Donate Life America. Though more than 90 percent of Americans support donation, only 42 percent are registered donors.

Those in the transplant community view Facebook as a means of increasing donation in three ways: by increasing the number of potential donors; guaranteeing that families know the wishes of their loved ones; and helping match live donors with needy recipients.

"I think it's possible that we will see an impact over the next couple of years, where we would imagine eliminating the transplant waiting list," Dr. Andrew Cameron, a transplant surgeon at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine who helped bring the idea to Facebook, told ABC News.

Eliminating the waiting list would save the lives of thousands of people who die every year while waiting for viable organs. Furthermore, it could spell the end of dialysis, rendering the procedure in many cases unnecessary if patients could receive new kidneys immediately.

"We've got 100,000 people waiting. Each donor can help three or four of those waiting. If we could do twice as well as we're doing now, if we could get another 10,000 donors a year, I think we could have that transplant waiting list down to almost nothing in three or four years. That would be a spectacular moment in medical history and in the history of public health. And I think if we all get together and do it, it's going to happen," he said.

While other physicians were excited about what Facebook could do for transplants ? particularly in the way it could inform families of what their relatives wanted ? they were less convinced that the social network would be a magic bullet.

"This is a huge step forward," said Dr. Jeffrey Punch, director of transplant surgery at the University of Michigan. "But nothing is going to solve donation problem overnight."

Punch predicted that Facebook would increase the speed by which donor organs could be harvested. Much of the delay, he said, came from family members debating their deceased relatives' wishes.

"The ideal thing is to decide [about donation] before you die. This will help your family know your decision," Punch said.

Punch said he did not believe the database would improve the rate of living donors, but the nonprofit that's partnering with Facebook believes living donations would also increase.

The site allows people looking for an organ to share stories and for recent recipients to share stories as well, said David Flemming, president of Donate Life America.

The following is the list of the 10 states, which as of Tuesday had seen a significant spike in registered donors.

New Hampshire
Rhode Island