By: Gigaom
How the social web saved a young entrepreneur’s life
Thanks to an almost unprecedented grass-roots awareness campaign conducted by his friends through Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter and other social media over the past three months, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Amit Gupta was able to find a compatible bone-marrow donor whose cells could help him conquer acute leukemia.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen how the internet — and in particular the social web — can bring attention to important policy issues like defective anti-piracy legislation, but it’s worth remembering that those same forces can be tremendously powerful on a personal level as well. The story of Amit Gupta is a great example of that in action: the 32-year-old entrepreneur (co-founder of the photography community Photojojo) was diagnosed with advanced-stage leukemia last fall, and announced last night that thanks to a social campaign his friends and family mounted through Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr, he has found a donor of the bone marrow he needs in order to remain alive and fight the disease.

As Gupta learned after being diagnosed in September, finding a suitable bone-marrow donor is an extremely difficult thing to do at the best of times, but finding one who is South Asian — and therefore a match with someone like Gupta, who is originally from India — is harder by an order of magnitude, because there aren’t many South Asian donors in the bone-marrow database. So it wasn’t enough for the social campaign that the entrepreneur and his friends launched to raise awareness about leukemia or bone-marrow transplants in general: they also had to target specific donors.

News spread quickly through multiple connected networks

As a Fast Company piece on Gupta’s story pointed out, the fact that the Photojojo founder was already involved in an incredibly well-connected and web-savvy community of entrepreneurs (he also co-founded an international co-working community called Jelly) definitely helped jump-start his campaign. In addition to Gupta’s own Tumblr blog, where his posts were re-blogged thousands of times, there was a dedicated website set up called Amit Gupta Needs You, with information about how to get tested for bone-marrow compatibility and ways to get the word out. As Ariel Schwartz noted in her post:

It’s a powerful example of how social media can make lasting, life-saving change–not just for one man, but for an entire population in need of bone marrow.

Amit Gupta

The campaign quickly spread through not just Tumblr but also through Facebook and Twitter, where thousands of people retweeted messages from Gupta and others in his social circle and used hashtags such as #4Amit. Then it started to get picked up by blogs — including iinfluential ones run by people like Jason Kottke, author Seth Godin and Vimeo founder Jacob Lodwick — but also by mainstream media outlets who wrote stories and did radio interviews with Gupta about his struggle to find a compatible donor. Godin and others even pulled together $30,000 to offer as a reward for anyone who was a match.

At one point, Gupta said that a resident in the hospital where he was being treated introduced himself and said that he had received a Facebook message from a friend who was trying to convince all the members of his social network to get tested and file their profiles with the bone-marrow registry. Others told him about bone-marrow drives that were being organized on university campuses through the Indian students’ association, and campaigns that were tied to Diwali celebrations at Indian temples.

Gupta’s campaign could help thousands of others as well

Last night, Gupta announced that a donor who matched his profile had been found. In his post, he thanked his social network and all of the expanded networks that they connected with during his crowdsourced campaign:

After over 100 drives organized by friends, family, and strangers, celebrity call-outs, a bazillion reblogs (7000+!), tweets, and Facebook posts, press, fundraising and international drives organized by tireless friends, and a couple painful false starts, I’ve got a 10/10 matched donor! You all literally helped save my life. (And the lives of many others.)

As the entrepreneur explained, this is only the beginning of a long process of treatment in which chemotherapy is used to effectively destroy the leukemia, and then the new cells are injected to try and reboot his system. At any point, complications or other events could cause the treatment to fail. But the campaign to find a donor will almost certainly help thousands of others as well, since it increased awareness about the lack of suitable donors — in just the few weeks following his diagnosis and blog post about it, Gupta said he was told that the registry’s website got more traffic than it had ever received in its entire history.

Obviously, not everyone has access to the kind of connections that Gupta was able to draw on, whether that is high-profile members of the Silicon Valley technology scene or others with large social networks and media influence. But the network effects that allowed his story to reach thousands or even millions of potential donors — and thus increased the odds of finding a successful match — are available to anyone with a blog or a Facebook page or Twitter account, and that is a powerful thing indeed.

Post and thumbnail photos courtesy of Flickr user Crystaljingsr

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