How The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Has Influenced Health Policy – And My Own Life – For Five Decades (Forbes)

FORBES | Private foundations in America play a unique and vital role in advancing social progress. That is well known.  What is less recognized is the impact such Foundations have on individuals who work within them. This story is a personal one.

In January, I completed a decade of service on the Board of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, America’s largest philanthropy devoted to health. While many Americans may not be familiar with this organization, it has made a major impact on U.S. health policy and on the health of all Americans. More personally, it has transformed my own life and thinking as well.

Understanding the Impact of the Foundation

My experience with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) began in 1975. Almost 50 years ago, it was my first time in the RWJF board room. I was accompanying Anne Somers, professor, healthcare expert, and co-author with her husband Herman Somers of the classic Doctors, Patients and Health Insurance: The Organization and Financing of Medical Care. I had spent a year with her while a student at Princeton, assisting with research in updating her book.

Entering the striking new Foundation building, I was in awe of the place. I met Gustav O. Lienhard, the storied Chairman of the Board of Trustees, who had served for years at Johnson & Johnson with CEO Robert Wood Johnson, and was personally selected by Mr. Johnson to head the Foundation. The Foundation had been “propelled to full growth” as explained in its 1972 annual report, transitioning from a local philanthropy to one of national importance nearly overnight as Mr. Johnson left a bequest of over 10 million Johnson & Johnson shares (valued at about $1 billion) to launch the Foundation to new heights. The report explained, “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s resources represent the largest single source of private capital to support new efforts in the health field.”

Read more at Forbes:–and-my-own-life–for-five-decades/?sh=71a684aa36dd

How Facebook is reinventing organ donation

(The Week, Posted on May 8, 2012)

By Bill Frist, M.D.

Thousands of Americans die each year waiting for heart, lung, and kidney transplants that never materialize. Mark Zuckerberg is intent on changing that
What do you use Facebook for? To keep up with friends, share pictures of your kids, or pass around the latest silly video? What if I told you that you can now use Facebook to save lives?

As of last week you can do just that.

Facebook has introduced a new “status update” that allows you to proudly share with all your friends your intent to be an organ donor. Not already registered as a donor with your state? No problem. With a few clicks, Facebook ushers you to the appropriate registry, where you can quickly make it official. With a permanent and prominent display on your Facebook site, you are telling your friends that you intend to give unselfishly to others, so that they may live a healthier life. Your personal commitment just might encourage each of your (on average, 190) friends to consider doing the same.

This small tool is no mere novelty; it will save lives.

This very second, more than 113,000 suffering people in the U.S. are waiting for a donated organ. Imagine a small child tied to a dialysis machine, a young mom whose liver is failing from a virus, or a 40-year-old uncle who, without a transplant, will die within six months from a failing heart. Last year, more than 6,600 people died before an organ became available. With better public awareness, most would be alive today.

This small tool is no mere novelty; it will save lives.

The potential supply of hearts exceeds the demand, so long as we increase the number of people willing to donate in the event of an untimely death. Last year alone almost 3,000 people died under conditions that made them suitable for organ donation but had not signed up to be organ donors.

Facebook’s bold initiative captures the power of social media in a forum where people tend to be more receptive to new or unfamiliar ideas suggested by their friends. It will help remove the stigma and mystery surrounding organ donation. It will improve the health of Americans. And yes, it will save lives.

This impact is real to me. As a surgeon, I made daily rounds for years on heart and lung patients who died waiting. For every 100 patients we transplanted, as many as 30 others would die before a heart became available.

My intimate experiences with these heart-wrenching realities inspired me to try and educate the public about how each of us can make a difference. In the late 1980s I wrote a book, Transplant, to demystify the whole process of transplantation so that everyone would at least consider becoming an organ donor. I even went so far as to put an organ donor card on the jacket of the book, to be cut out and signed by the reader. That was the old way of reaching the public. Over a two-year period, I may have reached 30,000 or so with the message.

Last week’s initiative by the Facebook team reached millions in the course of a few days. And that message will live organically as one’s “status” is displayed continually for years to come.

What has the effect been thus far? Since the kickoff on May 1, tens of thousands have registered as donors, flooding state registries with more sign-ups than they have ever seen.

In the 23 states that Donate Life America has data for, there was a 1,570 percent increase in sign-ups. In California alone, 1,239 people chose to become organ donors on May 1; normally the average is 70 per day. Texas typically gets an average of 60 new registrations per day. Following the Facebook organ donor launch, the number was over 1,000.

Thus far, more than 100,000 people are sharing that they are organ donors on their Facebook timeline, meaning that all their friends and family now know that information as well. That will prompt conversations about organ donation and how each of us can potentially make a miracle happen for others.

In my own state of Tennessee, only 35 percent of those 18 or over are registered to be organ donors, mainly through driver’s license registration. With the additional firepower of social networking introduced by Facebook, this could quickly reach 50 percent, literally giving life to hundreds of waiting Tennesseans each year.

If you are one of the 900 million people around the world who use Facebook or one of the nearly half of all Americans who have a Facebook profile, take a moment to update your timeline with your intent to be an organ donor. It will only take a moment. Like, post, comment, and most importantly, share. While you do so, you ought to feel quite good about yourself. You’re saving someone’s life.

Then you can go back to watching silly animal videos.


This article was originally featured in The Week

Bill Frist Receives 2011 NBAA Humanitarian Award

Bill Frist Receives 2011 NBAA Humanitarian Award from Bill Frist on Vimeo.


Bill Frist Flies Missions Worldwide to Help Those in Need

Esteemed doctor, pilot and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has been awarded the National Business Aviation Association’s (NBAA’s) 2011 Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership in recognition of his life-saving efforts worldwide, and the importance of business aviation to those endeavors.

An accomplished medical researcher and heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Frist was elected to the Senate representing Tennessee in 1994, the first practicing physician elected to the lawmaking body since 1928. During his two terms in office, Frist rose to the majority leader position faster than any previous senator while spearheading efforts to improve medical access for Americans and others worldwide, notably leading on bills like the Medicare Modernization Act and the passage of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). PEPFAR combats the spread of disease in resource-limited areas worldwide, and since its passage has provided life-saving anti-retroviral drug treatments to over 3.2 million people and counseling, testing and education to over 33 million to help prevent new infections. This ambitious program is often credited with saving a generation of Africans.

A true citizen-legislator, Frist has continued his regular medical mission trips worldwide since his retirement from the Senate in 2007. Frist – a pilot since the age of 16 and holder of multi-engine, commercial and instrument ratings – has consistently relied on aviation and his own piloting skills to expand his life-long commitment to healing to areas around the globe.

From using aviation night after night to personally transport hearts during his time-sensitive transplant procedures, to piloting planes throughout war-torn Sudan to perform surgery, Frist credits aviation as a powerful instrument for healing. Within days of the levees breaking in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, he flew his plane to care for those stranded. In flooded Bangladesh, he relied on floatplanes to ferry needed personnel and supplies on behalf of Save the Children and Samaritan’s Purse, and in 2010, he immediately flew to Haiti to perform surgery in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.

“Bill Frist has combined his skill as an aviator with his expertise in medicine to reach people in need of life-saving treatment at home and all over the world,” said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen. “From piloting his own aircraft throughout Sudan to give surgical care, to using aviation to reach and treat victims days after the devastating earthquake in Haiti, the senator and doctor truly ‘walks the walk’ in assisting those most in need of help. He exemplifies the humanitarian spirit that’s always been a part of business aviation, and we are honored to recognize his pioneering work with this award.”

In his 2009 book Heart to Serve: The Passion to Bring Health, Hope, and Healing, Frist wrote about his belief that medicine unites the world in its common goal for peace. “People don’t usually go to war against someone who helped save their children,” he wrote. “While the world often sees America’s tougher side…when people see America’s more compassionate, humanitarian side, the barriers come down, and peace becomes a viable possibility.”

Established in 2006, NBAA’s Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership recognizes the spirit of service demonstrated by humanitarian leaders within the business aviation community. The award is named for Albert L. Ueltschi, who was instrumental in the development of ORBIS, an international non-profit organization dedicated to preventing blindness and saving sight.

The award will be presented to Frist at the Opening General Session for NBAA’s 64th Annual Meeting & Convention (NBAA2011) in Las Vegas, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Monday, October 10, 2011. The full Convention will be held Monday, October 10 through Wednesday, October 12.

Past recipients of the Al Ueltschi Award for Humanitarian Leadership include Cessna Aircraft Company (2006), the Veterans Airlift Command (2007), Corporate Angel Network (2008), and the Civil Air Patrol (2009). Last year, the Association honored humanitarians throughout the business aviation community for their efforts in providing relief efforts following the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January 2010.

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Founded in 1947 and based in Washington, DC, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) is the leading organization for companies that rely on general aviation aircraft to help make their businesses more efficient, productive and successful. The Association represents more than 8,000 companies and provides more than 100 products and services to the business aviation community, including the NBAA Annual Meeting & Convention, the world’s largest civil aviation trade show. Learn more about NBAA at

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