Local organ donation registries say they are seeing a huge jump in donors since Facebook offered a new feature Monday allowing members to announce that they are organ donors on the social networking sites' pages.
Donate Life New England, which covers all of the New England states, typically signs up 23 to 25 new donors a day. Between a recent Monday afternoon and Tuesday afternoon, the branch signed up more than 600 new donors. Between a recent Tuesday and Wednesday, about 1,200 new donors were registered.
"It's been huge," said Kari Mull, director Donate Life Connecticut. "This is definitely increasing the pool of potential donors. I'm really giddy about this."
Facebook members can add their donor status to the "Health and Wellness" section on their timeline. If a member isn't a registered donor and wishes to become one, there's a link allowing people to sign up through their local Donate Life America chapter. The site also encourages members who aren't organ donors to register as such.
Marjory Cole, of Norwalk, who waited for more than a year for the life-saving liver transplant she received in 2009, and Christy Langguth of Stratford, who is still waiting for an appropriate liver donor for her 5-year-old daughter, applauded Facebook's action.
"Someone once told me that there are people out there who might want to help, but they might not know how," said Langguth. "What (Facebook) did will make so many more people aware of this."
Diane, Langguth's daughter, has biliary atresia, a disease that occurs in infants wherein the biliary tree -- the connection between the liver and the intestines that allows for the passage of bile -- does not properly form. She has reached the point where she badly needs a transplant. Diane is adopted, so neither Langguth nor her husband are genetic matches.
"We're completely reliant on the system," to find a donor, Langguth said.
Cole was diagnosed with the liver disease primary biliary cirrhosis roughly 20 years ago. About five years ago, her health deteriorated to the point where she needed a transplant. Originally, her son was going to be a living donor because it's possible for a living person to donate part of his or her liver for a transplant. But his liver was deemed too small for the task. Cole, like the Langguths, was at the mercy of the system. It took a year and a half to find her a new liver, but she credits the eventual transplant with saving her life.
Like Langguth, Cole believes the new Facebook feature will make more people aware of the importance of organ donations. Cole said it also provides evidence that an individual wanted to donate his or her organs after death.
Nationwide, there are more than 110,000 people waiting for a heart, kidney or liver transplant and about 18 people die each day waiting for these life-saving organs. Dr. Sukru Emre, director of the Yale-New Haven Transplant Center, said many people are hesitant to register as donors because of misconceptions about the process. For instance, he said, some people think that, if they're admitted to the hospital with a life-threatening injury, doctors will be less likely to save them. "This is not the reality," Emre said. "Doctors' reputations and everything else come from saving patients, not getting their organs."
He's hoping the new Facebook program will help educate people about the need for donors and remove some of the stigma attached.
"This will keep organ donation top of mind," Emre said. "I'm hoping this is just the beginning."
For more on organ donation, visit http://www.donatelifenewengland.org/
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