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Social Media and Email Best Practices: How to Save a Life

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Typically, I don’t get chills on my metro ride to work at 7:30 in the morning. Nor do I get all choked up. This morning I experienced both. Why? Read the story below. It’s worth the 3 minutes.

Warning: this will pull on your heartstrings.

This is the story of Sameer Bhatia and the power social media and best email practices have in calling for a clear action and saving a life. From Jennifer Aaker and Andy Smith’s new book The Dragonfly Effect.

Below are excerpts from pages 1 – 6 of the book.

“Sameer Bhatia was always good with numbers – and he approached them, as he did everything in his life, from a unique perspective. When the Stanford grad was in his twenties, he came up with an innovative algorithm that formed the foundation of his popular consumer barter marketplace, MonkeyBin. By age thirty-one, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur was running a hot mobile gaming company and was newly married. His friends, who called him Samba, adored his energy, optimism, and passion for pranks. Sameer had an ability to bring out the best in people. With an unrestrained zest for life, he had everything going for him.

Then, on a routine business trip to Mumbai, Sameer, who worked out regularly and always kept himself in peak condition, started to feel under the weather. He lost his appetite and had trouble breathing. He wanted to blame the nausea, fatigue, and racing heartbeat on the humid hundred-degree monsoon weather, but deep inside, he knew something else was wrong.

Sameer visited a doctor at one of Mumbai’s leading hospitals, where his blood tests showed that his white blood cell count was wildly out of whack, and there were “blasts” in his cells. His doctor instructed him to leave the country as soon as possible to seek medical treatment closer to home. Immediately upon entering the US – before he could even make it back to his hometown of Seattle – Sameer was admitted to the Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Jersey. He was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), a cancer that starts in the bone marrow and is characterized by the rapid growth of abnormal white blood cells that interfere with the production of normal blood cells. AML is the most common acute leukemia affecting adults; it’s also very aggressive.

Sameer was facing the toughest challenge of his life. Half of all new cases of leukemia result in death. But Sameer was determined to beat the odds and get better. After Sameer underwent a few months of chemotherapy and other pharmacological treatment, doctors told him that his only remaining treatment option would be a bone marrow transplant – a procedure that requires finding a donor with marrow having the same human leukocyte antigens as the recipient.

Because tissue types are inherited, about 25 to 30 percent of patients are able to find a perfect match with a sibling. The remaining 70 percent must turn to the National Marrow Program (NMDP), a national database with over eight million registered individuals. Patients requiring a transplant are most likely to match a donor of their ethnicity. That wasn’t a promising scenario for Sammer, however. He had a rare gene from his father’s side of the family that proved extremely difficult to match. His brother, parents, and all of his cousins were tested, but no one proved to be a close match. Even more worrisome was that of the millions of registered donors in the NMDP, only 1.4 percent were South Asian. As a result, the odds of Sameer finding a perfect match were only one in twenty thousand. Worse, there were few other places to look. One would think that a match could easily be found in India, Sameer’s family’s country of origin. After all, India is the world’s second most populous country with nearly 1.2 billion people. But India did not have a comprehensive bone marrow registry. Not a single match surfaced anywhere.

People often ask what they can do to help in harrowing times. The answer is hard to find. Do you offer to drop off a meal? Lend an empathic ear? Such overtures are well intentioned, but rarely satiate the person who wants to help or the person who needs the help.

Sameer’s circle of friends, a group of young and driven entrepreneurs and professional, reacted to the news of Sameer’s diagnosis with an unconventional approach. “We realized our choices were between doing something, anything, and doing something seismic,” says Robert Chatwani, Sameer’s best friend and business partner. Collectively, they decided they would attack Sameer’s sickness as they would any business challenge. It came down to running the numbers. If they campaigned for Sameer and held bone marrow drives throughout the country, they could increase the number of South Asians in the registry. The only challenge was that to play the odds and find a match that would save his life, they had to register twenty thousand South Asians. The only problem: doctors told them that they had a matter of weeks to do so.”

Below is the email Sameer’s friend Robert composed:

“Robert sent the email to Sameer’s closest friends and business colleagues – about four hundred to five hundred members of their “ecosystem,” including fellow entrepreneurs, investors, South Asian relatives, and college friends. And that set of friends forwarded the email to their personal networks…within forty-eight hours, the email had reached 35,000 people and the Help Sameer campaign had begun.

Sameer’s friends soon learned that yet another man in their ecosystem had recently been diagnosed with the same disease: Vinay Chakravarthy, a Boston-based twenty-eight-year-old physician. Sameer’s friend’s immediately partnered wtih Team Vinay, an inspiring group of people who shared the same goal as Team Sameer. Together, they harnessed Web 2.0 social media platforms and services like Facebook, Google Apps, and YouTube to collectively campaign and hold bone marrow drives all over the country.

Their goal was clear, and their campaign under way. Within weeks, in addition to the national drives, Team Sameer and Team Vinay coordinated bone marrow drives at over fifteen Bay Area companies, including Cisco, Google, Intel, Oracle, eBay, PayPal, Yahoo!, and Genentech. Volunteers on the Easy Coast started using the documents and collateral that the teams developed. After eleven weeks of focused efforts that included 480 bone marrow drives, 24,611 new people were registered. The teams recruited thirty-five hundred volunteers, achieved more that one million media impressions, and garnered 150,000 visitors to the websites.”

Here’s why the email was so effective:

I won’t tell you the rest of the story. But you can read it here.

Amazing account of Using Social Media to Save Lives.

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