Steve Jobs was best known for imagining a better future and then organizing others to help him make that future happen.
Usually Jobs reserved this talent for gadgets and media.
But in 2009 and 2010, Jobs quietly put this skill toward saving lives.
In October 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law a bill that made California the first state in the nation to create a live donor registry for kidney transplants. The bill also required California drivers to decide whether they want to be organ donors when they renew their driver licenses. According to one supporter, this second measure alone should double the number of organ transplants available in California.
The registry created by that bill opens today, following a news conference at 9 A.M. Pacific time.
The registry never would ever have happened without the help of Jobs.
In December 2008, Jobs shocked the media and worried friends by announcing that he would not deliver Apple's keynote at the upcoming 2009 Macworld Convention. Two weeks into the new year, the company and the CEO announced he would be taking a leave of absence in order to deal with a "hormone imbalance."
Here's what was really happening: Steve Jobs' liver was failing and he was learning that he needed to replace it or else he would die.
Around this time, Jobs began looking for a new liver. Unfortunately, he wasn't the only one doing so in California. In fact, over 3,400 Californians were waiting for a new liver in 2009. Only 671 got one. 400 died.
What Jobs probably did next was what most wealthy Americans with failing livers do in the same situation: travel around the U.S. and pay big fees to be examined by various doctors at various hospitals in order to get on as many waiting lists as possible.
This process is called multiple-listing. It's very time-consuming and expensive. One of the hospitals where Steve got listed required an interview with a doctor, an interview with a a social worker, and a complete and very invasive medical examination.
By early to mid-March: a miracle. One of the hospitals at which Steve had gotten listed reached him to say that they had a liver and that he was the best candidate to receive it via transplant. It was Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
By December 2009 – and for what we now know was an all-too-brief interim – Steve Jobs' life seemed to all the world much like it was before he got sick.
The news and rumors about Apple were once more all about its latest gadgets and not the CEO's health.
But something about his whole experience still bothered Jobs.
As he would later explain in his own words, Jobs was alarmed that while he, a very wealthy man, was able to survive his liver's failure, others were not so lucky. He knew that in California alone, 400 people died hoping that same year.
And so, in a departure from a largely apolitical career, Jobs decided to do something about it.
At a dinner in December 2009, Jobs sat next to Maria Shriver who was then married to California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Steve told her the whole story of his liver transplant. He complained that California doesn't do enough to encourage people to become organ donors. He told Shriver that she should get her husband to do something about it — that California should require people who want driver licenses to say whether or not they want to be organ donors (previously, they'd only had the option of saying they wanted to be donors).
The First Lady talked to her husband. Then the governor called Jobs. Suddenly, a cause that couldn't find its way into a bill for two or more years was set to become State Senate Bill 1395.
Eventually Jobs and the governor planned to announce the bill at Stanford's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.
After an introduction from the hospital's president and a short speech from the governor, Jobs stood at the podium.
Last year I received a liver transplant. I was very fortunate, because many others died waiting to receive one. Last year in California there were 671 liver transplants, but last year there were also over 3,400 people waiting for a liver and over 400 of them died waiting in California.
I was almost one of the ones that died waiting for a liver in California last year. I was receiving great care here at Stanford but there were simply not enough livers in California to go around and my doctors here advised me to enroll in a transplant program in Memphis, Tennessee, where the supply/demand ratio of livers is more favorable than it is in California here. And I was lucky enough to get a liver in time. As a matter of fact, this coming week is my one-year anniversary.
So why aren't there more organs available in California? Because in California, like most other states in the nation, you must specifically request to become an organ donor at the Department of Motor Vehicles when you're there to get or renew your driver's license. No one asks you if you want to become a donor. And there's no marketing campaign to make you aware of this opportunity, either, so unless you know about it and unless you specifically ask, nobody is going to ask you, nobody is going to give you this opportunity. And yet even with this obscure procedure over 20 percent of Californians have signed up to be organ donors, which is fantastic. But imagine what it could be if everyone knew of this opportunity.
And that's what the Governor's bill will do. It will simply require the DMV to ask you if you'd like to become an organ donor. That's it. Asking this one simple question may double the number of transplant organs available in California — one simple question. And that's a very high return on investment, especially for the over 20,000 Californians currently waiting for an organ transplant.
On the day of the announcement at the hospital, Jobs and Schwarzenegger took a tour of the facility.
A hospital staffer recalls someone from Apple suggesting a very short tour. But Jobs wouldn't have it.
In fact, at the end of the tour, while everyone else — the Governor's people, Apple's people, and the hospital staff — waited outside the recovery room for the children who had just received organ transplants, Jobs lingered alone with the children.
"Steve was still in there talking to kids," says this staffer. "Steve stayed in there for a while, really enjoying himself."
Editor's note: We've told this story a couple times before, but we felt like today's events merited another re-telling.
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