Going online for an organ donor

December 16, 2011 12:32:06 PM PST
People in need of an organ transplant are, in some cases, turning to the internet these days hoping to find a donor.

And for some, it's working. Just this week, a woman in Florida in desperate need of a kidney found a donor on Craigslist and got her transplant. They were strangers until they connected online. Now, both donor and recipient are recovering after the successful transplant operation.

A local family is hoping for a similar success story, following years of kidney issues.

38-year-old Meredith Hucke has always been active, never letting her Type 1 diabetes slow her down.

Both she and her sister were diagnosed with the disease when they were young girls, a tough pill to swallow for the family.

"I sat on the floor and cried, that's what I did," Meredith's mother Linda Hucke said.

Their parents took it day by day, trying to keep their girls healthy, but in her early 20's, Meredith's kidneys failed.

She received a transplant from a deceased donor who had pre-arranged to gvie-up his organs.

"Anyone that is willing to give a part of their body to help, means a lot," Meredith said.

But 8 years later, that donatied kidney started to fail.

No one in her family is eligible to donate their organs, so Meredith depends on dialysis to live.

But Meredith is hoping to find a new kidney from a living donor this time, with the help of social media. Her friend Leigh Fazzina is spreading the word through sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. See her story at: Meredith Hucke Requests A Living Donor.

"For me, there's a personal mission; it's trying to keep a friend living and help keep her family at peace," Fazzina said.

Leigh knows firsthand the power of social media.

One of Leigh's tweets is listed in the top ten tweets of 2010. She got lost and injured during a mini-triathlon. When she couldn't get a signal to call for help, she tweeted. Within minutes, she was rescued.

But despite the success stories and noble missions of those patients looking for online aide, using social media to find a donor comes with some ethical concerns.

For starters, The Gift of Life program doesn't support it. The organization believes the prcatice could lead to people paying for organs, which is illegal. It may also give certain patients an unfair advantage over others who need the help more.

Art Caplan, a bio-ethics expert at the University of Pennsylvania, puts it this way.

"Some people are just shy and they are not going to have either the advice about how to do this, they are not going to have the money, they are just not willing to go out there and beat the bushes, so if you will, the more noisy wheels get the attention, but they may not be the neediest people for a kidney," Caplan tells Action News.

He also questions whether a stranger stepping forward is truly doing it as an altruistic act.

Still, Caplan says you can't blame friends for wanting to do all they can.

And that's the way Leigh and the Huckes see it.

They're hoping someone can help Meredith and give them another reason to be thankful this season.

If someone does step forward, being allowed to donate a kidney is not a slam-dunk. Any willing donor must go through both a physical and psychological evaluation to see if they are indeed an appropriate match.

They can only donate if they are found to be suitable by a review team.

At least, that's the way it is in many patient's cases, including Meredith's. However, nationally, not all hospitals have the same strict review regulations. There is a desire by some in the medical community to see national standards set to better control the organ donor process, especially in an age where social media is changing and speeding-up the process through which patients and donors are coming together.

The full statement of the Gift of Life Program on the use of social media:

"Gift of Life Donor Program is concerned that the public solicitation of organs by an individual who needs a transplant--including via social media--would lead to inequitable access to living donor organs and would replace altruism as the central incentive to becoming a donor.

"There are currently significant public education initiatives to increase organ and tissue donation, as well as processes in place to manage the distribution of both deceased and living donor organs. Also, organ procurement organizations (OPOs) are in place nationwide to maintain patient waiting lists and coordinate recovery and distribution of donations. Patients are listed based on the severity of their medical condition, length of time on the waiting list, blood group, tissue type, and other medical criteria. This system is blind to economic status.

"'Gift of Life believes that public solicitation of organs disadvantages those currently on the waiting list. We believe in the fair, objective and equitable distribution of available organs and tissues, so that every patient on the waiting list has an equal chance of receiving an organ,' says Howard M. Nathan, President and CEO of Gift of Life Donor Program. Organ allocation in the United Sates is based upon medical and scientific criteria, and is not impacted by a patient's financial, political, social or celebrity status.

"Additionally, Gift of Life Donor Program does not support public solicitation of living donors by an individual because there are over 112,000 people on the national waiting list, of which more than 6,500 live in our region. We believe public solicitation could lead to compensation, and the buying and selling of any organs or tissues in the United States is illegal, as part of The National Organ Transplant Act (Public Law 98-507). Any person who violates this law is subject to a serious criminal penalty, including fines and imprisonment.

"There is a critical shortage of organ and tissue donors. One donor can save or enhance the lives of more than 50 people. Register today by going online at www.donors1.org."

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