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Harnessing the Power of Hollywood

By Tenaya Wallace, Guest Blogger & Founder, Donate Life Hollywood (DLH)

Recently I asked a group of organ donation educators to raise their hand if they had ever spoken to someone who cited a television storyline as the reason they were NOT a donor.

Every hand in the room went up.

Around the country, OPOs and their volunteers work tirelessly to debunk myths and fears that have been ingrained in our society because of Hollywood. After years of giving high school presentations and training volunteers, I knew first-hand how television shows impact people’s perception of donation. In 2007 there was finally proof of this cause and effect.

Dr. Susan Morgan published a series of research articles proving that people were less likely to register as a donor after watching a myth-based storyline. She also highlighted the reason WHY: because organ donation is so rare. Most people don’t have a personal experience with our cause, and because Grey’s Anatomy makes transplant storylines so realistic, viewers believe what they see. Unlike other medical and social issues, viewers can’t draw from personal experience to counter scripted inaccuracies.

In response to this research, OneLegacy launched Donate Life Hollywood.

What is Donate Life Hollywood?

Donate Life Hollywood (DLH) is a project of the OneLegacy Foundation with national support from DLH Partners like Donor Alliance. We have three goals:

  1. Increase the number of authentic and positive donation storylines
  2. Eliminate #HollywoodMyths about donation
  3. Build relationships with the entertainment industry to help save lives

In working with Hollywood, I have found that writers aren’t trying to do us wrong. They simply don’t know that their storylines have such an impact. That means it is up to us to offer help, hold them accountable and create meaningful partnerships.

DLH built a deep relationship with the medical drama “Three Rivers” on CBS, which focused entirely on transplants. By working collaboratively with DLH, the show led to a 6% increase in the public’s willingness to register as a donor in a single year. While the show aired, I had emails daily from OPO’s around the country saying that people were consenting to donation in the hospital because they wanted their loved one to save lives, “like on that show.”

Donor Alliance supports the DLH Inspire Awards

Every year at the DLH Inspire Awards we honor television storylines that get it right. The Inspire Awards build impactful relationships with top writers, producers and networks, especially from medical dramas where our cause is so pervasive.

At the 2022 DLH Inspire Awards, “The Resident ” on Fox was celebrated for their episode “The Long and Winding Road,” which had the most accurate and positive portrayal of organ donation we’ve ever seen. I spoke with writer Joy Blake and medical advisor Dr. Daniela Lamas about how and why they were able to craft such a uniquely authentic storyline. Their answer was simple: they asked for help.

The writers were so in awe of the information that a brain death expert shared that they included almost all of it in this very important storyline where fans say goodbye to the beloved character, Nic – played by actress Emily VanCamp. Emily left the show to focus on her own children, so in the storyline, Nic became an organ donor.

Pattei and John Schutte, Donor Alliance Advocates, at the DLH Inspire Awards

Because of the care taken by Joy and Dr. Lamas, this fictional character also helped people understand the organ donation process and the power of donation. Hollywood got the very complicated subject of brain death very right.

Hollywood donation myths in the news

Just a few months later the national news media struggled with the concept.

Coverage of the tragic death of actress Anne Heche and her generous donation failed to communicate the concept of brain death and did nothing to help the public understand the donation process.

But Donor Alliance, DLH and Dr. Lamas helped set the record straight.

As a DLH Inspire Awards sponsor, Donor Alliance brought volunteer Pattei Schutte to Los Angeles to present the award to “The Resident.” During dinner conversation, Donor Alliance PR/Communications Director Cheryl Talley spoke with Dr. Llamas about the Anne Heche coverage. Inspired by this conversation, and the powerful real-life stories at the event, Dr. Lamas wrote an Op-Ed for the New York Times entitled “What Happens When the Brain Goes Quiet but the Heart Continues Beating?”

This piece was the best news article ever written about brain death, from the collaborator of Hollywood’s best storyline on donation.

How can you help?

The entertainment industry is like every other constituency, they need information and inspiration around our cause. They need to know better to do better. They need to hear from everyone personally touched by donation, not just me!

DLH has created the DLH Activate App for you to help hold Hollywood accountable and share your personal stories with writers. Download the app today to be part of the DLH movement:

  • Register your connection to donation/transplant through the app so that we can provide casting opportunities that would be a fit for you.
  • Allow for notifications to receive an alert whenever there is a transplant storyline.
  • Take action! Go to RESPONSE and at a touch of a button you will amplify a pre-written message to the writers through your personal social channels.
  • When you see a show with a transplant storyline, click REPORT-A-MYTH to let us know so we can create an immediate response.
  • Through the ADVO-KIT you can share your story to help DLH inspire writers to get it right.

Together we can harness the power of Hollywood to turn the greatest storytellers on earth into our greatest partners in saving lives.

Additionally, you can register your decision TODAY to be an organ, eye and tissue donor.

In Colorado? Say YES to donation HEREIn Wyoming? Say YES to donation HERE

-Tenaya Wallace was born in Hollywood and grew up on sets with parents who worked behind the scenes on some of television’s most iconic shows. She is the CEO of Crowd Advocacy and founder and director of Donate Life Hollywood, a project of the OneLegacy Foundation that serves as a liaison between the organ donation community and the entertainment industry with the goal of seeing more authentic and empowering stories about donation and transplantation.