by George Taniwaki
As a kidney patient searching for a donor, it is best to start your search by contacting people you know as part of your social network. However, once you have contacted everyone you know, it may be helpful to expand your search to include strangers who live in your neighborhood.
One way to reach these people is to get a news story carried in a local newspaper, radio station, or television station. Getting your story in front of the public can help you and other kidney patients in the following ways:
- People you have already contacted previously may see or hear the story (especially if you send them a copy of it or a link to it). This will reinforce your message. It may provide the extra push they need to decide to get tested as a potential donor for you
- People you don’t know become aware of your story through the news. They decide to get tested as a potential donor for you
- People you don’t know see the story and decide to get tested as a donor for someone they know (not you) or decide to donate anonymously. Thus, although the story didn’t help you, it will help others
Contact your local media outlets
Newspapers, radio, and television can provide free news coverage for your story. These media outlets usually also have a web presence, including a standalone website and through social media like Facebook and Twitter.
Newspapers – Because there are so many, local community newspapers are the most likely media outlet to carry your story. If you don’t know what newspapers are available in your neighborhood, there are three good lists of local newspapers. I recommend searching all three in order to compile a comprehensive list for your area.
You may also try contacting the major daily newspaper(s) in you region, but your chances of getting a story published in one of them are much lower.
Radio – There are usually more radio stations than newspapers in a city. However, there are a few limitations in your ability to get your story publicized on radio. First, each radio station has a very constrained format. Most are music oriented or talks show oriented, often using nationally syndicated content. Most radio formats are not conducive for allotting time for local human interest feature news stories. Second, most people do not intently listen to the radio and are not likely to become actively engaged in your story. This means they are less likely to take action based on a story they hear on the radio than they would when reading it in a newspaper. Finally, unlike a newspaper, your story will only be heard if the person is listening to the radio at the time your story is aired.
If you decide to try promoting organ donation on the radio, the best list of radio stations in the US and Canada is Radio Locator. For radio stations outside these two countries, try Radio Station World.
Television – Occasionally, I see stories featuring a patient searching for a donor on the local TV news. However, I personally have not had any luck getting local station to carry a patient’s story. Instead, TV news stories are more likely to cover a successful transplant after the fact, especially one with unusual circumstances. Still, if you want to contact a TV news editor, a list is available at USNPL. Many local TV news organizations have a dedicated health editor.
Pitching the story
When describing a story idea to the news editor, you want to clearly explain why your situation will be of interest to the audience. Providing some of the following facts about kidney disease and kidney transplant will help sell the story.
- Kidney transplants are complex surgery, but frequently performed. Give name of hospital where you are listed as a transplant patient
- There are a lot of people in the community who are waiting for a transplant. Give number of people in your state waiting for a deceased donor kidney transplant (the data is available at http://optn.transplant.hrsa.gov/latestData/stateData.asp?type=state)
- These patients wait a long time for a transplant. The average wait time for a transplant from a deceased donor depends on location, blood type, and other factors. For patient in California with O blood type, the wait can be over 8 years. Many people die while waiting and never get a transplant
- There is a shortage of deceased donor kidneys. Finding a live donor helps reduce the shortage. It also leads to better medical outcomes for the patient
If you are unsuccessful in getting an editor interested in running a story about your donor search, there is still another opportunity. You can submit a letter to the editor to be published in the newspaper. For details see this Jul 2013 post.
Preparing for an interview
Once your story is accepted, you will want to prepare to be interviewed by a reporter. You should be prepared to discuss the following details:
- How has kidney disease affected your life and your family. If you are on dialysis, describe your routine
- Explain why you are seeking a live donor, mention that any person who volunteers to donate a kidney may save a life
- Provide names and contact information for other people who the reporter may interview. (Remember to get permission first.) These may include:
- The living donor advocate at the hospital where you are listed. This person can talk about the donor evaluation process
- A previous transplant patient who can talk about the change in quality of life post-transplant
- A previous donor who can talk about the donation experience and quality of life post-donation
In addition to preparing your interview points, arrange with the newspaper to have them send a photographer to take your picture.
Some smaller publications may not have a reporter or photographer available to write a story. In this case, you will need to write it yourself, or find somebody who can write it for you. A college journalism student may be available to help you. Similarly, you will need to provide your own professional quality photograph.
A good example of a patient story appears in Queen Anne News and Magnolia News Mar 2013. The story features Sandra Driscoll, a retired attorney and a dialysis patient at Northwest Kidney Centers. A couple of screen shots are shown below.
Good example of a kidney donor search story. Newspaper flag and story screenshot from Queen Anne News and Magnolia News
Thanks to Sandra Driscoll for her diligent efforts and initiative in getting her story published and making her neighbors aware of the need for live donors.
For more ideas on finding a donor, see my Kidney patient guide.