Facebook helps Donate Life America befriend Michigan organ donors

All too often social media are accused of creating a divide in human contact and interaction.

But Donate Life America—the national organ, eye and tissue donor alliance nonprofit—has found a way that online communities like Facebook can help connect lives in very big ways.

Last spring, Facebook teamed with Donate Life America and ABC News to debut a profile add-on allowing users to publicize their organ, eye or tissue donor status.

This week we catch up with our local group—Gift of Life Michigan—to see how social media have impacted donor registration numbers.

Gregory Green of Rochester Hills is shown celebrating his "first" birthday after his heart transplant. He just turned "three" in February.

To become a donor, most people register at the Secretary of State’s office.

But in the past year, an average of 40 Michigan residents each month have joined the donor registry solely from Facebook awareness, Jennifer Tislerics, a social media administrator at Gift of Life Michigan and chairperson of Donate Life America media committee said.

Avid Facebookers have updated profiles notifying family, friends and networks that they are in fact a donor. But the use of the site has helped others learn how to register by connecting viewers with a link to each state’s donor registry. (Visit www.giftoflifemichigan.org.)

“It’s fantastic to have your family and your friends know to spread the word, but logistically what we need everybody to do is to actually register so that we know,” Tislerics said. “We don’t necessarily have access to your Facebook profile; we do have access to the donor registry.”

In the first week of the new campaign, state donor registration numbers jumped to 1,000 extra donors who signed up after learning of online registration through Facebook.

This is great for those who are interested in becoming a donor but might not know how, Tislerics said. The Michigan’s Secretary of State’s office has also ramped up forces to share information about becoming a donor.

But since the debut, numbers have gravitated back to normal, Tislerics said, which is the aforementioned 40 people each month who become a donor just from learning about it through Facebook.

When compared to the average 35,000-53,000 Michiganders registering each month, that might not seem like a lot. But every person counts, Bridget Green of Rochester Hills said.

“I don’t know if that Facebook stuff works, I’ve posted stuff but I don’t know whether or not it’s working but I’d say, yeah, do it—It cant hurt,” she said.

Three years ago Bridget’s father, Gregory Green underwent a heart transplant.

“My dad is awesome, given what he went through—just watching what he went through was amazing,” she said.

Bridget shares her father’s story whenever she can.

“I feel very proud of my dad and of Ryan (his donor) to share the story,” she said.

Gregory, now 60, was diagnosed with cardio myopathy (a disease of the heart muscle) in his thirties.

After spending a year alive by a battery essentially pumping his heart—through a ventricular assist device— Gregory underwent his heart transplant.

“This whole process has been really moving and my dad was incredibly strong through (it),” Bridget said.

The Greens had the chance to meet the family of Gregory’s donor, “So that made it even more amazing and my dad still keeps in touch,” she said.

And the clock started anew after his surgery. So just last month, Greg celebrated his third birthday.

“I don’t know whether advertising on Facebook works or not,” Bridget said. “What I do know is that we need more organ donors and that educating people and helping them to understand that organ donation is really important and understanding the pros to it—because there really and truly are no cons—is really important.”

“So whatever vehicle we can use, and I think Facebook is a really good vehicle in order to do that, than by all means let’s use them all.”

National Donate Life Blue and Green Day 2013

Want to get involved? Mark your calendar for Friday, April 19 to participate in Donate Life America’s second National Blue and Green Day.

Everyone is invited to wear blue and green outfits, make blue and green foods, paint your nails blue and green—get creative, Tislerics said as the organization takes on a virtual fashion show and contest.

“People are invited to post pictures of themselves doing these blue and green things on the Donate Life America’s Facebook page and from there there’s a little contest to determine which is the most fun of those efforts and some token gifts and appreciation,” she said.

This new campaign aims to improve community awareness of why of becoming an organ, eye or tissue donor is so important.

If you are an organ donor or would like to be, Tislerics encourages you to register your decision with www.giftoflifemichigan.org.

You’ll also want to check out this video of a tissue recipient and his new-found pal, the son of his organ donor here.

—The nonprofit organization which accepted the donor’s tissue and prepared it for that particular recipient is the Musculoskeletal Transplant Foundation (www.mtf.org), which is the organization Gift of Life Michigan works with to purify and prepare most tissue donated in our state.

About Jen Bucciarelli

Veggie lover and aspiring word chef, reporter Jen Bucciarelli covers all things health and medicine for Rochester Media and The Community Edge. She is always on the hunt for local experts who can help improve the lives of our readers. Send her a note at JenBucciarelli@gmail.com.

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