I’ve heard of people using Facebook to find apartments or roommates or to sell or buy furniture. But Melissa Foster of Pontiac is taking the commodity search to a whole new level. She’s using Facebook to find a new kidney.

Foster’s kidney started failing when she was 16 years old, according to a May 26 article in the Detroit News. She waited nine years for a replacement, which her body is now rejecting. So she started the Facebook group “Mel Needs a Kidney” to search for individuals who would be willing to donate a kidney to her. To date, Foster has received about 100 replies from possible donors willing to be tested to see if their kidney would be compatible to hers.

I hope that Foster’s search for a compatible donor is successful, and that her body doesn’t reject a replacement kidney a second time. I admire her determination and initiative to work around a notoriously long process. But individual use of social networking sites to search for organs doesn’t solve a much larger problem: Michigan needs more organ donors. When you think about it, it’s a scientific miracle that organ donation is even possible. But the miracle is being stifled by a lack of donors.

The specifics of Foster’s case allow her to look for a donor privately. A donor can give her the organ she needs without suffering serious injury because humans only need one kidney to survive, even though we are born with two. Similarly, living donors can provide a liver to another person since the human liver has remarkable regenerative properties. But many organs aren’t redundant. Human beings can’t offer up their heart, pancreas or stomach to another person via Facebook. More Michigan residents should register to be organ donors so that Facebook doesn’t have to become the go-to option for finding an organ.

Michigan has among the lowest percentage of donors in the nation. According to the Detroit News report, the state ranks 42nd. That kind of sucks, especially since the process is so easy to become a donor. All Michiganders need to do is go online to add their name to the registry of organ donors. Michigan law requires that organ donors volunteer, so unless residents add their name to the registry, they aren’t donors by default.

College students should lead the way to increase Michigan’s number of registered organ donors. Students don’t tend to give death much serious consideration. We’re at a time in our lives when we feel invincible. And for the most part, I think that’s okay. That confidence helps us prepare for the rest of our lives. But there is always the chance that something could happen, despite our Superman-like mentality, so it’s good to be prepared. College students are typically in good physical condition, making us prime donors. And, though no one likes to consider the possibility, an accident or illness could make almost anyone in need of a new organ. Students should be aware that they can — and should — be donors.

I signed up to be an organ donor last year after, coincidentally, I noticed an ad on Facebook that encouraged users to become donors. It only took me a few minutes to provide the required information online. After I signed up, I was mailed a small sticker shaped like a heart to attach to my driver’s license so that emergency personnel will know that I am a donor in the event of a serious accident. The back of Michigan licenses also have spaces for residents to indicate if they’d be willing to donate organs in the event of sudden death.

To make sure that, should the circumstances ever arise, my wishes would be fulfilled, I had to have a very uncomfortable conversation with my mother about which organs I would want to donate. It was a pretty morbid conversation, but I encourage everyone to have that talk with their parents or significant others. It’s bleak to think about, but the reality is that it could matter a lot to someone in need of a new pancreas or skin grafts.

To become an organ donor, go to the Michigan Secretary of State’s website and click on the “Organ Donation” tab, then fill out the online application to join the donor registry. It only takes a few minutes. And signing up makes college students a lot more like Superman than just feeling invincible: It could actually save someone’s life.

Rachel Van Gilder is the Daily’s 2010 editorial page editor. She can be reached at rachelvg@umich.edu.

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