AP PhotoMelissa Foster, 30, of Lake Orion, poses with her Facebook page. Her body is rejecting a kidney transplant and she has turned to Facebook to try and get donors.
Melissa Foster has used Facebook to keep up with friends and follow the Dave Matthews Band. Now, she's hoping the social networking site can save her life.
Foster, 30, recently put up a page on Facebook looking for someone to donate their kidney to her. She has since heard from about 100 people wanting to get tested to see if they would be compatible. Foster is thrilled because she waited nine years to get the donated kidney her body now is rejecting, and she might have to wait between nine to 12 years for another donated kidney from someone who dies.
"I am a little overwhelmed with the people coming forward," Foster, a Pontiac native whose kidney began failing when she was 16 due to a urinary tract infection, told The Detroit News. "But if they all follow through, somebody has got to match me."
Foster is one example of how patients and activists are using social networking to encourage more organ donations among the living and dead.
Transplanted organs have long come from those who recently died and made their wishes known beforehand. Michigan ranks among the nation's lowest — 42nd — in the percentage of licensed drivers who are on the Michigan Organ Donor Registry, said Betsy Miner-Swartz, spokeswoman for Ann Arbor-based Gift of Life Michigan.
AP PhotoSince Foster put her page up, she’s had 100 people come forward and offer to donate.
Donors must sign up for the registry online or in a Secretary of State branch office.
Activists have tried to pass stronger laws to encourage more participation in the registry and are now using social networking to spread the word that 2,943 Michigan residents are currently waiting for organs.
At a presentation this month, Miner-Swartz encouraged attendees to tweet the need for organ donors on Twitter, and a few days later nearly 100 more people signed up on the registry.
"Social media works in the world of organ donation," Miner-Swartz said. "Not only are we better able than ever to spread the word, but we're seeing tangible results that ultimately will save lives."
Sandi Smith, the director of Michigan State University's Health and Risk Communication Center, has a $340,000 federal grant to study how Facebook can be used in conjunction with college student competitions to increase the state donor registry. Ads were placed on Facebook this school year for Michigan colleges to compete to see which could sign the most students on the donor registry. The study is still ongoing, but Smith is optimistic.
"We are thrilled with the initial results," she said. "It is a method that shows a lot of promise, particularly with people in the 18- to 24-year-old range."
In the last decade, living organ donation among relatives, friends and spouses increased, said Dr. Jeffrey Punch, chief of the Division of Transplantation at University of Michigan Health Systems. A growing number of people also have begun to donate to strangers for altruistic reasons.
Some disapprove of those needing organs soliciting strangers through social media or other unconventional ways, Punch said, because critics believe that could be more beneficial to those who are good-looking, come from certain races or have better marketing skills. Others fear a black market in spite of federal laws banning payment for donated organs.
But Punch said, "We're not in a position to judge people on how they connect."
Foster, who created the Facebook page "Mel Needs a Kidney," is directing those who want to help to U-M for screening. But she has promised to make her effort bigger than herself.
"I tell everyone, 'You should really consider donating to someone else,'" said Foster, who lives in Burton, near Flint. "There are so many people who are not organ donors and could save someone's life."