By: Danielle Kelley

My grandmother received a heart/double-lung transplant in 1987, before I was even born. She passed away 19 years after that life-saving surgery, and I’ve always wondered about the family on the other end of the transplant.

That was the inspiration behind Organ Connections, a website and database designed to connect organ recipients with donor families. While a meeting between the two families is quite commonplace today, it was rare in the early days of the transplant medicine field.

I built the front-end of Organ Connections using HTML and CSS coding skills I learned at the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication. With financial help from the Knight Foundation, I was able to hire a student programmer at the LSU College of Engineering to build the more complex database using PHP.

Once the website was up and running after much trial and error, I launched Organ Connections’ Facebook and Twitter pages. I began sharing videos of heartfelt meetings between recipients and donor families, and soon shared my own story with a call to action:

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The first post received 53 likes, six comments and an amazing 186 shares. In all, 13,826 unique Facebook users viewed the post. I paid $10 to boost the post to those who might know of the donor family. I set the parameters to those living within 50 miles of Chattanooga, Tenn. (where we believe the donor lived) who were over 30 years old.

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Surprisingly, only one percent of the Facebook reach was a result of the boosted post, meaning the rest was organic. Nearly 3,000 users (or about 20 percent) of the people who saw the post actually clicked on it. Of those who clicked, 151 opted to visit Organ Connections’ website, 486 viewed the photos and over 2,000 clicked elsewhere.

In addition to social media, I sent a news release to Baton Rouge and Chattanooga newspapers and stations. The first to bite was Steve Johnson of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He called both me and my mother, and I provided him with family photos and scanned copies of my grandmother’s diary entries. Steve also asked that I send him a video asking for the community’s help.

 

I was quite pleased with Steve’s story. He captured my goal: to find and thank the donor family who made the decision to donate their loved one’s organs so many years ago.

Thanks to the above-the-fold, front-page coverage, I was also contacted by Kelly McCarthy of Chattanooga’s NBC affiliate, WRCB. Kelly interviewed me via Skype and broadcasted her story that same night. Baton Rouge’s ABC affiliate, WBRZ, added a web article with Kelly’s promotional tweet.

I shared all these articles regarding my grandmother’s story on Organ Connections’ Facebook and Twitter. In total, Organ Connections’ Facebook page reached 22,766 Facebook users. Our Twitter page had 38 retweets of our original tweets and related tweets by other users.

So far, I have not had any contact with my grandmother’s donor family. This could be for multiple reasons. First, the family may no longer be alive or may no longer live in the Chattanooga area. Second, the family may have seen the social media posts or news stories, but opted not to contact me. Third, the family may be around, but I may have not reached them. Despite this, I continue to work in hopes of meeting them. At the very worst, I have raised awareness of the benefits of organ donation and I am very proud of that. I have received dozens of private messages and emails from complete strangers telling me their own organ story, or stories about my grandmother. For that I am thankful.

As for the database itself? I’ve only had seven entries, but I am currently working to push those messages out as well. I emailed all accounts, and received one message back. Please share this link to try to connect a Texas family of World War II POW with the family of a Fort Worth-area, 29-year-old who died on or shortly before Jan. 12, 1989.

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Many thanks to Dean Ceppos, Steve Buttry and the Knight Foundation who made this possible.