POSTED: Saturday, June 22, 2013 - 1:00am
UPDATED: Saturday, June 22, 2013 - 1:04am
CNN — It seems we often hear of another patient who has been desperately waiting for a transplant that could save his or her life.
Earlier this month it was a 10-year-old girl in Pennsylvania hoping for a new set of lungs. Before that it was Molly Pearce, who needs four organ transplants to survive. In September a man walked the streets of his South Carolina town asking strangers for a kidney for his wife.
More than 118,000 people in the United States are currently awaiting organ donations, according to OrganDonor.gov; 18 of them die each day without a donation.
Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg is hoping to change that with the power of the world's largest social networking site. On May 1, 2012, Facebook launched an initiative aimed at encouraging more people to register as organ donors.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the Living Legacy Foundation and Donate Life America watched closely during the rollout, tracking how many people signed up and whether the initial boost in organ donor registration was sustained. The results of their analysis were published this week in the American Journal of Transplantation.
On the first day of the initiative, there were 13,012 new online donor registrations across the 44 states the study authors analyzed; that's a 21.2-fold increase over the usual daily registration of 616. Over the next two weeks, the number of new donors each day declined, although levels still remained above normal. The total number of new registrations during the study period reached nearly 40,000.
Even though 40,000 is less than 0.1 percent of Facebook's users, the study authors say the impact may have a ripple effect that could save lives. The theory is that sharing your organ donor status online will remind others to sign up, who will in turn encourage their friends to do the same.
"This 'chronic vitality' may give the Facebook organ donor initiative a chance of sustained impact that other previous media campaigns have lacked," the authors write.
The real question is whether the elevated levels will stick. Was the initial boost really due to Facebook's social media prowess? Or was it due to the media attention the site received in the days surrounding the initiative launch? And will the effort eventually result in more organ donations?
Only time will tell, the study authors say.
To join the social media campaign, visit your Facebook profile page and click "Life Event." Doing so brings up a drop-down menu where you can select "Health & Wellness" and then "Organ Donor..." That will direct you to your state's organ donation registry and allow you to post a story to your timeline about when and why you decided to become a donor.