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Facebook launched a new option on their Timeline profile that allows users to identify as registered organ donors

BY JENNY EARL | MAY 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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Facebook is saving lives through organ donation, and Iowans seem willing to help.

The social network added a new feature May 1 allowing users to identify their organ-donor status and allowing those who aren't donors to register. The process has helped raise organ-donor registration across the state — 690 Iowans registered within 48 hours of the application's launch.

"We were beyond thrilled," said Paul Sodders, the public-affairs manager for the Iowa Donor Network. "It's kind of this waiting game. I was hopeful that we'd see a rise in numbers, but I didn't dream it would be that high."

Facebook users who don't identify as a registered organ donor are referred to Donate Life America's National Registration Page, which allows them to become legal donors on their state's donor registry.

Since the option's first three days, online donor registration per day for Iowa has spiked — from an average of seven registered organ donors a day to 25.

Iowa isn't the only state that's seen an increase.

Within the first two days of the Facebook initiative, 44 state donor registries reported a total of 24,354 online registered donors, a 23-fold increase over average enrollment activity, according to Donate Life America.

Aisha Michel, the communications supervisor for Donate Life America, said Facebook pitched the company the idea in February of adding donor status on Timeline.

"We were excited about the call," she said. "They were very receptive to what we had to say."

Donate Life America's national goal for 2012 is to register 20 million new donors.

In December 2011, one-third of all adult Americans were registered donors, but Iowa has traditionally been higher than the national average — Sodders said two-thirds of the state's adult population are registered.

"We could be one of the highest states in the nation with registered donors," Sodders said, if the Iowa Donor Network reaches its goal of a 10 percent increase in 2012.

Although the Iowa Donor Network has been on Facebook and Twitter for around a year, the organization plans to further utilize social media, expanding into social-media sites such as Pinterest and expanding its use of YouTube.

"This really has never been a medical problem — not having enough donors — it's really been a huge social problem," Sodders said.

Jerilyn McCarty Fisher, an associate writer for UI Health Care marketing and communications, said the feature will help spark conversation of organ donation among the younger generation.

"I believe that peer persuasion can be very, very strong and have a tremendous effect," she said.

Fisher knows the gift of organ donation well, having lost 23-year-old son Brendan — a registered organ donor — seven years ago in a car accident. If she hadn't talked about organ donation with her son, Fisher said, 26 people wouldn't have received important body tissues, and one 3-year-old boy, who was in need of a heart valve, might not have lived.

"There's a lot of socially involved kids who want to reach out and help somebody, somehow, some way," Fisher said. "If we can make that tool available, something that's talked about without fear that is absolutely fantastic, as we know it can happen anytime, any place, to anyone."


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