Saving Lives in Real Time

Live Tweets of kidney transplant were a huge success for both patients and followers.

Live Tweets of kidney transplant were a huge success for both patients and followers.

Earlier this month, Indiana University Health took a bold initiative when it hosted a live “Twittercast” of a kidney transplant via the social network, Twitter.

Living donor Colin Newton helped give his friend Caleb Johnson a new lease on life with the life-saving organ donation. At the same time, IU Health helped spread the word about the importance of living organ donation.

IU Health Public Relations Coordinator Kris Karol said the Twitter cast was a huge success. “We went into this not knowing what to expect, and in the end we were blown away. We never in a million years expected the kind of response that we received,” says Karol.

The surgery generated more than 700 responses on Twitter, including retweets, mentions and direct questions to IU Health about the procedure. Of course, the best outcome is that the surgery opened many peoples’ eyes to the importance of organ donation.

“So much went into this,” explains Karol. “We met with the transplant team on June 1st and the surgeon told us about Colin and Caleb’s surgery, planned for June 13. We were so excited.” It helped that both Colin and Caleb were familiar with Twitter, and they were immediately on board with the plan.

From there, planning the Twitter cast was a whirlwind. Team members from Transplant, Marketing, e-health, internal communications, Surgery and Administration—so many IU Health professionals came together to make this happen. Aside from step-by-step updates throughout the procedure, IU Health produced videos, fielded questions and provided an e-postcard program, where supporters who were following the procedure online could send an e-postcard to Collin and Caleb, with well wishes.

“There were dozens upon dozens of questions asked by followers during the twittercast,” says Karol. “And we even had some surprise retweets—we didn’t know that the LA Times would pick up on it and even the actress Alyssa Milano tweeted it.”

With such a successful outcome, will IU Health offer a live Twitter cast of a procedure again? Karol stresses that it requires choosing the right kind of procedure, and having enough lead-time to coordinate. “This has been a real eye opener, and a learning experience,” he says.

In the end, though, despite the wonderful response, it wasn’t about increasing numbers on social media. “The main reason we did this whole thing, was to educate the public about an often misunderstood procedure,” explains Karol. “There’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding kidney donation and live organ donation. The live Twitter cast was extremely beneficial in helping to raise awareness for living donor organs.”

After the Twitter cast, some followers were already expressing interest in making an organ donation, and wanted to talk to Caleb about his experience. We’ve heard anecdotally some people who are interested in donating an organ,. “Obviously, in terms of social media, this was a success. We need that, to get the word out,” says Karol. “But the real success is with the people who are helped through living donor organs.”

If you missed the Twittercast of this living organ donation, you can watch the videos about Caleb and Colin at iuhealth.org/kidneydonation. You can also read more at the hashtag #calebskidney on Twitter. For more exciting updates, don’t forget to follow @IU_Health on Twitter or like IU Health on Facebook.  

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