Facebook calls on members to flag organ donor status

Wed May 2, 2012 3:59pm EDT
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Tired of the long wait for a new kidney, Michael Shelling, a 50-year-old video game marketing consultant based in San Diego, decided to take a more active role in the search.

About three months ago, he decided to tap into his social network by setting up a Facebook page to get the word out to his friends, and their friends, that he needs a new kidney and, by the way, his blood type is O.

The search may have paid off. A potential donor is going through testing to see if they are a match.

It is the kind of scenario Facebook hopes to foster. Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg put out the call earlier on Tuesday to encourage the social network's users -- more than 900 million -- to speak up if they are organ donors and display it on their personal pages.

"We think that people can really help spread awareness of organ donation and that they want to participate in this to their friends, and we think that can be a big part in helping to solve the crisis," Zuckerberg told ABC-TV's "Good Morning America" program on Tuesday.

There are currently 92,102 people in the United States waiting for a donor kidney -- the organ that is in greatest demand -- according to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network. Last year, only 16,812 kidney transplants took place in the United States, with the majority of those donated from deceased donors.

That disparity leaves many like Shelling waiting in line for a donor organ to become available, a process that can take three or four years, said Joel Newman, a spokesman for the United Network for Organ Sharing.

In 2007, Shelling was diagnosed with end-stage kidney disease as a result of chronic high blood pressure. He undergoes home dialysis to clear excess fluid, minerals and wastes from his blood, but he longs for the day when he can do without it.   Continued...

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg listens to a question from the audience after unveiling a new messaging system during a news conference in San Francisco, California November 15, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith