Successful Transplant on Twitter Calms Surgery Jitters

Mackenzie and Shawn King.  Photo by Bre Daugherty, Bedford Times-Mail.

Mackenzie and Shawn King. Photo by Bre Daugherty, Bedford Times-Mail.

“Mackenzie and Shawn King. Photo by Bre Daugherty, Bedford Times-Mail.”

Last month, Indiana University Health gave thousands of online viewers from across the country an educational behind-the-scenes look into what happens during a kidney donation surgery—all thanks to one Indiana man’s heroic decision to give a lifesaving kidney to a friend and their willingness to share the experience on the popular social media platform Twitter.

While having dinner one night in their hometown of Merom, Indiana, near Terre Haute, Colin Newton, 33, learned his fishing buddy Caleb Johnson needed a lifesaving kidney transplant. Colin, a loving husband with a three-year-old daughter, selflessly offered to be a living kidney donor for 31-year-old Caleb, who suffered from focal segmental glomerulosclerosis, or FSGS – a condition where the millions of tiny filters in the kidney are so badly scarred and damaged that they no longer filter blood properly. Over the next several weeks, the two friends went through a series of tests and exams to make sure they were fit for transplant surgery at Indiana University Health University Hospital.

Once they were cleared by the hospital’s medical teams, the two men found themselves facing yet another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity – one that would place them before an online audience of thousands. In early June, Colin and Caleb were contacted by the IU Health Public Relations team who talked to them about their willingness to participate in the state’s first-ever “Twittercast” of a live surgery.

The idea: hospital public relations staff would join the surgical team in the operating room and post live “play-by-play” tweets and photos on IU Health’s Twitter page (@IU_Health). This would all be done to give the public a real-time view of a living kidney donation surgery in the hopes of raising awareness of the need for more organ donors. The two men agreed and the Twittercast surgery took place on June 13, 2012.

A tremendous success, the six-hour Twittercast generated several hundred comments and retweets from the thousands of viewers from across the nation who followed the procedure in real-time online.

Interestingly, while thousands of online viewers were educated about organ donation and the transplant process, two viewers in particular – a mother and daughter from Paoli – were also given reassurance as they prepared for their own kidney donation surgery scheduled exactly one month later in the same hospital. On July 13, Shawn King donated a lifesaving kidney to her 18-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, who suffered from Wegener’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that attacked her kidneys and wiped out 92 percent of their function. While the Kings didn’t have their surgery recorded on Twitter, they said the IU Health Twittercast helped to calm their fears about surgery.

A little more than month after the Twittercast, Colin, Caleb, Shawn and Mackenzie are all doing fine. Mackenzie, a 2012 Paoli High School graduate, will start classes at Hanover College in the fall.

IU Health is home to one of the largest transplant centers in the nation. Kidney transplants make up almost half of the nearly 500 transplants performed at IU Health each year.

To learn more, visit Indiana University Health Transplant.

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