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Facebook, double-lung transplant recipient makes push for organ donors

Double lung transplant recipient Helene Campbell smiles during her welcome home press conference with her family in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 17, 2012.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

It is through the Internet that millions of people around the world learned the story of Hélène Campbell, the spunky 20-year-old Ottawa woman who received a new set of lungs six months ago.

And it is through the Internet that Ms. Campbell hopes to convince more Canadians to register as organ donors.

She joined federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Jordan Banks, the managing director of Facebook Canada, at a news conference on Tuesday where they announced that Canadians will have access to the social media platform's organ-donation status tool.

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Facebook users from Canada who go online to register their willingness to donate their organs will be asked to share news on their Facebook page, the hope being that their friends will then feel compelled to follow suit. If people are not already registered with their provincial donor registry, they can find a link to the official donor registry on their Facebook timeline.

It is a tool that Facebook launched in the United States and Britain in May and has since extended to 12 other countries leading to 275,000 more people to sign up as organ donors.

"I have come to see that through social media the generosity of the human spirit shines through. 'Sharing Your Organ Donor Status' through Facebook will grow awareness in Canada, giving hope to those waiting on a life-saving transplant. Today, that light shines brighter," said Ms. Campbell in a release issued at the news conference.

A recent study in the scientific journal Nature found that activity on Facebook can actively influence decisions offline.

If anyone in Canada knows the power of social networking sites to promote organ donations, it is Ms. Campbell.

At her prompting, pop star Justin Bieber tweeted his support for organ donation last January. She won the hearts of millions in February when she appeared, via Skype, on the Ellen DeGeneres show. And she has become a YouTube darling with hundreds of thousands of hits on the video-sharing website.

Ms. DeGeneres was so moved by her story she has promised to fly her to Los Angeles so the two can dance together on her show. And a video Ms. Campbell sent to Ms. DeGeneres of her dancing after her recuperation has inspired schools, hospitals and others promoting organ donations to do the "Hélène Campbell dance."

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Every time she made news – after the Bieber tweet, after the DeGeneres show, after Hélène Campbell Day was declared in Ottawa, and after her surgery – organ donor registrations spiked in Ontario.

"Social media is a key tool for creating a culture of donation in Ontario. The success of our existing social sharing tools, such as The Gift of 8 Movement at www.BeADonor.ca, demonstrates that people are more likely to make the decision to register when inspired by people they know," said Ronnie Gavsie, the president of the Trillium Gift of Life Network in Ontario.

"We're very excited that Facebook has chosen to highlight the importance of organ and tissue donation," said Ms. Gavsie, "and encourage Canadian Facebook users to display their choice on their timeline."

Millions of people are waiting for a heart, kidney, liver or lung transplant that could potentially save their lives and many die because a suitable donor cannot be found in time.

This video explains how the Facebook tool works.

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