TAMPA — A click onto a Facebook page led to a lifesaving gift this week.
Hannah Craig, 21, needed a kidney. Like most of us, Hillary Glanzer, 28, had an extra.
Glanzer was a friend of Craig's cousin and the two had known each other as children, but lost touch as they grew up. Craig moved to Boston when she was 11 and then back to South Tampa six years ago. Glanzer lives in Orlando.
Glanzer, who saw on Facebook that the girl she had known needed the transplant, offered her kidney "without hesitation," said Craig.
On Monday, doctors performed the kidney transplant at Tampa General Hospital. Both women are recovering. Without a donor, doctors warned it might take three years for Craig to creep up the waiting list for a kidney from a deceased donor.
About 4,500 Americans die waiting each year.
Craig's online transplant search is no fluke. Experts say that patients who need a kidney, which is the most commonly transplanted organ, are increasingly turning to social media websites to find altruistic strangers.
In April, an ABC News broadcast focused on a 35-year-old Michigan man, Jeff Kurze, whose wife had found a donor after she posted a request for her husband on Facebook. The donor was a Facebook "friend" but otherwise a stranger.
A recent Huffington Post article told of how Damon Brown of Seattle found a kidney on Facebook. Jacqueline Ryall, 45, had never met Brown — she was an acquaintance of his wife — but wanted to give. Brown's request appealed to her, in part, because he was a father.
Many of the 92,570 people currently waiting for kidney transplants would prefer an organ from a living donor because they typically last longer than those from cadavers. But of the fewer than 17,000 kidneys transplanted last year, just 5,771 came from living donors, said April Paschke, a spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS, which maintains the waiting list for the government.
Kidneys from living donors most often come from relatives, Paschke said. The organization does not track altruistic donations by how the connection is made, such as through social media.
"You hear these stories from time to time," Paschke said. These donors fall into a category of unrelated nonbiological, which captured 1,266 transplants last year. Experts say "stranger" donors, though small in numbers, are on the rise despite the risks.
"There are definitely risks for anyone undergoing surgery," Paschke said. "Those risks include deaths."
But the odds of surgical complications are low and life with one kidney, for most, is no different, experts say.
In 2008, three sisters in New York were on the forefront of tapping social media for organ donations when they found a kidney for their father after posting on Craigslist. Their father, now 72, never had to go through dialysis, said one sister, Jennifer Flood. His donor was a California woman who had lost a close mother figure and wanted to do something to help others.
"Dad's doing great," Flood said recently. "And the woman, she's a part of our family now."
After their father's surgery, the sisters started a nonprofit to help link others who need kidneys to donors. To date, they've connected six more pairs who have undergone transplants, including a Tampa woman who was 72. People older than 60 often are considered too old to receive the new organ, Flood said.
According to UNOS, 114,000 people are waiting for organs, including hearts, livers, lungs and kidneys.
Good news for them came last month as Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg announced that users can now indicate that they are organ donors in the health and wellness section of their pages.
It's an example of how social media has evolved from a calender used by a small sector of the population into a ubiquitous form of communication where users can brand themselves, said Erik Black, an assistant professor of pediatrics and education technology at the University of Florida College of Medicine.
These connections rise above drive-by activism when these connections involve the exchange of a life-giving organ, such as a kidney.
"That's a little more than 'liking' something," said Black, who co-edited the book Social Media in Medicine: The Impact of Online Social Networks on Contemporary Medicine. "That's real engagement."
Craig had more than 20 people offer to give her a kidney, said her mother, including others who did not know her. Many of them couldn't because of incompatible blood types or antibodies.
This is Craig's second kidney transplant. When she was 2, her mother gave her a kidney.
She hopes to keep this one for at least as long.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.