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Waiting for a kidney? Try Facebook

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
health world

April 06, 2011|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times
  • Ricky Cisco, 25, right, talks about his decision to donate one of his kidneys to Jeff Kurze, center, seated with wife Roxy, at the Beaumont Hospital Heart Center Conference in Royal Oak, Mich. Facing a three-to-five-year wait for a kidney, the couple turned to Facebook.
Ricky Cisco, 25, right, talks about his decision to donate one of his kidneys… (Clarence Tabb Jr. / Detroit…)

Perhaps anything is possible with social media -- but even so, this story caught me off guard: A man donated his kidney to a stranger after seeing a plea on Facebook.

Jeff Kurze's kidneys were failing, according to the story. His wife, Roxy, posted on her wall in desperation:

"Wishing a kidney would fall out of the sky so my husband can stop suffering," the 30-year-old Web designer wrote. "So if anyone knows of a live donor with type O blood, PLEASE let me know."

Ricky Cisco, a 25-year-old comedian, saw the post and messaged Roxy, saying he wanted to help. Even though the two were nearly complete strangers, they were Facebook friends (having met once through work).

The rest, as they say, was surgery. But it raises an interesting question: Are people more likely to be philanthropic through Facebook and other social media? Plenty of charities have banked on the theory -- but if there's any power in it, it may come from a more general idea not limited to the Internet: the theory that people are more likely to be generous in social networks of all kinds, from family to clubs to religious organizations.

Robert Putnam, author of "Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community," would probably agree. The Harvard University professor compared Americans' charitable tendencies to their social connectedness, and found that they matched up pretty well.

In this paper, he writes, "By far the best predictor of philanthropy, for example, is not how much money you have, but how many clubs you go to or how often you go to church. There is a very strong affinity between social connectedness and altruism."

Does this mean you should be expanding your social networks -- including friending everyone you ever meet in case you ever need a replacement organ? That might be going a bit far. But it's an interesting note to how our interconnectedness through the Internet might shape our motivations just as much as our "real" social networks do.

Follow me on Twitter @LAT_aminakhan.

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