Garry Kravit


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ALPA Pilot Profile

Five Points of Life


A United pilot bikes from Seattle to Cape Canaveral as part of a team raising awareness of the unending need for blood and marrow donors.


By Jan W. Steenblik, Technical Editor

Air Line Pilot, March 2005, p.20



For Capt. Garry Kravit (United), of Plantation, Fla., The Day was Oct. 5, 2004--the day he suddenly knew, deep in his road-weary bones, that he had made A Difference.


Capt. Kravit's personal odyssey--as much spiritual and emotional as physical--began in April 2001 when his nephew, David Buist, then 24, was diagnosed with a rare and deadly kind of cancer, hepatosplenic T-cell gamma delta lymphoma. David beat the cancer and is alive today because of the selflessness of others, from whom he received numerous donations of blood and blood products and a marrow transplant.


After David was diagnosed with lymphoma, he asked Capt. Kravit, a blood and apheresis (platelets, plasma, or leukocytes) donor, to join the National Marrow Registry Program. He also asked his uncle to raise money to build a new Ronald McDonald House for Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York because he wanted to help others. Finally, David asked Capt. Kravit to personally fly him home after he beat the disease.


Capt. Kravit did all of this, then took his contributions one step--actually, many pedal strokes--further: He joined the Five Points of Life (FPOL) Ride 2004 Cycling Team, which pedaled some 4,000 miles in 53 days from Washington State to Florida. The mission of the ride was to promote awareness of the five ways people can share life with others by donating whole blood, apheresis, marrow, cord blood, and organs or tissues. (Only about 6 percent of all Americans eligible to donate blood do so.)


"If you think waiting in line for takeoff at O'Hare during a snowstorm is frustrating, try waiting for an organ or marrow donor." --Capt. Garry Kravit (United)



Each Team member was selected through a national application process and had a personal story about how donating has affected his or her life. The riders shared their experiences at blood drives, marrow drives, and donor awareness events that local donor organizations organized.


Capt. Kravit dedicated his participation in the FPOL 2004 Ride to his nephew and two other people who had touched his life--Chris Singer and Capt. Ed Petrovich.

Chris Singer was a young man with lymphoma whom David met while in the hospital in New York. He underwent a bone marrow transplant and was recovering at the time of the ride. Chris passed away a few weeks ago. His mother called Capt. Kravit to thank him for everything he did and wanted him to know that the ride and his involvement in it were very important to Chris and added importance to his life during the last year.


"My friends Dan and Brian Petrovich are United captains," Capt. Kravit explains. "Their father, Ed, a retired United Airlines captain, passed away recently after a bout with leukemia. Ed, Dan, and Brian have been inspirations in their contributions to the United pilot family, United Airlines, and ALPA. Ed was hoping to receive a bone marrow transplant to arrest the leukemia, but circumstances did not allow for that to occur. I had the privilege of visiting with Ed the day before he passed away."


With the FPOL Team Riders expecting to pedal an average of 75 miles per day--some days, as far as 130 miles--Capt. Kravit took his training seriously.


"I generally average about 60 to 75 miles when I ride," he says. "When flying a trip I spend an hour or two on a stationary bicycle in hotel facilities." Despite the "frantic pleadings" of his wife, Karen, Capt. Kravit shaved his arms and legs for the transcontinental ride. "Cyclists do this not for a wind drag advantage," he explains, "but because if we fall, so much road grime, bacteria, and dirt gets on our arms and legs that cleaning road rash is virtually impossible with the hair intact."


Capt. Kravit decorated his bike--blue like those of the rest of the team--with orange handlebar tape to complete the colors of his favorite college football team, the University of Florida Gators.

Road warriors


The FPOL Ride started Aug. 24, 2004, from Children's Hospital in Seattle with a short leg down to Puget Sound. With dignitaries cheering the riders on, the cyclists logged 9 hours and 102 miles in 50-degree weather--and soaking rain--that first day on their way to Olympia, Wash. Capt. Kravit rode with U.S. Congressman Jay Inslee.


And so the miles unfolded--through Washington, Idaho (to the State Fair at Filer), a Labor Day AFL-CIO barbecue for 5,000 people, where the FPOL riders were invited guests, and September 7, memorable for its 121 miles and 8,000 feet of climbing over a 9,500-foot peak.


On September 13, "With three mountain ranges (Cascades, Wasatch, Rockies) behind us, we finally made it to Denver," Capt. Kravit wrote in his website log of the trip. "I felt like a goldfish in stagnant water gulping for air."


They also rode that day from Ft. Collins to Boulder, where they attended a blood drive at a local hospital. Alex Quick, the youngest member of the team, remarked that for every 4 miles they cycled, "a person dies waiting for an organ donation."


"The ride was an amazing journey. I know that we did well in what we set out to do. I know that people will benefit." --Capt. Garry Kravit (United)


In Denver, the FPOL Team visited Gambro BCT, a company that makes blood processing and donation machines. At the Gambro plant, "we were greeted by 300 cheering employees, the theme music from Chariots of Fire, and Powerade," Capt. Kravit recalled in his log. "The Gambro folks gave us an incredible tour of the plant and then arranged for deep muscle massages.


"Today, in Denver, we rode to the state capitol building and received a proclamation from both the governor and the mayor declaring September 14 as Five Points of Life Day. Joining us for our ride was Chris Klug, Olympic bronze medal snowboarder, and liver recipient.

"As we were riding to the capitol building, Chris got a flat tire, and I lent him a CO2 cartridge to fix the flat. I had ridden more than 1,400 miles without a single flat tire, and Chris Klug, right in front of me, got a flat. It reminded me that, at any time, the unexpected could occur with regard to the health of any of us and that we should all be aware of the need for donations," Capt. Kravit wrote.


Next they headed to the Bonfils Blood Center for a blood drive and reception where they shared their stories with about 75 people. The news media covered the event, and the riders later watched themselves on the 5 o'clock news.


After Bonfils, they were off to East High School, where they talked to a gymnasium full of students about the need for donations. Many of the students signed up to give blood at an upcoming blood drive at the school.


"This month has been especially difficult for my family [wife, Karen, and children, Kai and Michelle]," Capt. Kravit wrote. "They've been all alone in dealing with the stress of the hurricanes and cleaning up in the aftermath. Karen spent two days in the yard, by herself, clearing debris, cutting broken trees, and dragging everything to the curb--all after teaching her 10th-grade classes." Capt. Kravit remarks that Capt. Dan Petrovich called Karen as each hurricane approached to ask if he could do anything to help. "That Dan was there for me while I was away, and that I had the opportunity to be with his dad before his dad passed away, really struck me that this is what the brotherhood of aviators is all about."

On September 20, the riders stopped in Topeka, Kans., to meet with Gov. Kathleen Sebelius. Team member Mark Nothnagle, a semi-retired 58-year-old from Massachusetts, left his bike unlocked outside Assumption Church in Topeka while attending mid-day Mass--and someone stole it.

Local television news programs carried the story; the next morning, an alert citizen noticed the bike, little the worse for wear, in a dumpster. Police returned the bike to Nothnagle at 5:30 a.m.

On September 23, the FPOL Team arrived in Knob Knoster, Mo., home of Whiteman AFB and its B-2 bomber wing. They met with Air Force personnel and a group of others and made their pitch for donations.


"Then we toured the B-2," Capt. Kravit recalls. "We were allowed to sit in the cockpit but could not take photos. I would say the B-757/767 is much more comfortable."


The Day


"When I began the ride," Capt. Kravit remembers, "I was told that somewhere along the ride each rider has a day when he or she knows that his or her participation in the Five Points of Life Ride had some real meaning. Something happens; maybe you meet a child, or hear a story, or touch a person's life.

"When I began the ride," he says, "I felt that if I could influence one person to become a bone marrow donor, that it would have all been worth it.


"On October 5, we were in Murfreesboro, Tenn., at an American Red Cross blood and bone marrow registry drive. I told my nephew David's story to about 100 spectators--how donations of blood, platelets, and bone marrow saved his life.


"At the event," Capt. Kravit continues, "were a mother and daughter, Linda Sadler and Angela Pursley. They are part of a donor family who, with the loss of a son (and brother), donated a heart (among other organs) to a man who also was at the mall.


"Linda and Angela approached me and said that my telling of David's story and his desire to have everyone become bone marrow donors inspired them both to get typed.


"This was the first time on the ride (6 weeks to the day since arriving in Seattle)," Capt. Kravit says, "that a stranger had come up to me and told me that my involvement in the ride inspired him or her to become a donor. I was moved.


"By the time the riders left the mall, they'd typed approximately 40 people to become bone marrow donors. Many more had donated blood," he says.


That same day, a new rider--Gerhard van Dyk from Capetown, South Africa--joined the FPOL Ride. While cycling, he had caught a virus that attacked his heart, leaving it with only 12 percent of its normal capacity. In July 1999, he received the heart of a 19-year-old who had died. He also received donated blood.

Capt. Kravit wrote in his log, "I rode with Gerhard today and can attest to the fact that he has the heart of a 24-year-old."


The ride goes on


On October 6, the riders arrived at a medical technology college in Rome, Ga., and spoke to groups of students about the need for donations. A blood drive was in progress; Capt. Kravit said later, "I think that our stories made a difference" in the success of the blood drive.


Two days later, the FPOL Team went to the capitol building in Atlanta and received a proclamation in honor of the FPOL Ride from Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue, presented by Deputy Chief of Staff Patrick Moore. Two Georgia state representatives, Thomas Rice (R) and Alan Powell (D), also met with the FPOL riders.


"Mr. Rice joked that standing at the podium with his friend Mr. Powell wasn't difficult for him because blood is a bipartisan issue," Capt. Kravit recalls. 


At another blood drive later in the day, he told his nephew's story to as many of the blood donors as possible and urged them to fill out the form and let the phlebotomists take an extra vial of blood so that they could join the National Marrow Registry. He personally recruited six people to become bone marrow donors.


On October 12, after crossing into Florida, the FPOL riders visited a phosphate mining company, where they discussed the need for donations with the company's employees. Capt. Kravit skipped the mine tour and went to Lake City to donate platelets.


Three days later, the FPOL Ride Team arrived at the Kennedy Space Center to the cheers of 250 well-wishers and a high school band. The first raindrops of an approaching front were falling--the first rain they'd seen since leaving Seattle 53 days earlier.


"The ride was an amazing journey," Capt. Kravit summarizes. "I know that we did well in what we set out to do. I know that people will benefit."


After the ride was over, he posted on his website a message of gratitude and continued encouragement: "I'd like to thank all who supported the Team and me. And I'd especially like to thank my friends at United Airlines, Dan Petrovich and Bob Jordan, for helping me make this ride a reality. I'd like to thank Karen, Michelle, and Kai for letting me slip away for a couple of months. And of course I'd like to thank all of you who donate the gift of life--please continue to do so, consider new ways to donate, and encourage others to become donors."







Garry Kravit had donated platelets the day before and was feeling tired. "Today, I did only 30 miles," he says, almost apologetically. That's 30 miles of cycling, less than half what he usually does and less than a third of his weekly century (100-mile) ride.


For months, the 43-year-old Plantation resident has been training for the ride of his life, a nearly 4,000-mile, 53-day trek across the continent from Seattle to Titusville, "from the space needle to the space center" in a LifeSouth Five Points of Life Ride.

The platelet donation and the cross-country pedaling are expressions of the same desperate need -- for blood, bone marrow, tissue and organ donations.


For a man accustomed to negotiating great distances from the cockpits of 767s, the ride is like morphing from eagle to roadrunner. But Kravit is pumped and ready for a challenge that will have him and 12 others pedaling up to 160 miles in a single day. "In the first week we have a 124-mile day, followed by a 133-mile day, and then a 137-mile day," he notes.

This fifth biannual ride, a program of the LifeSouth Community Blood Centers, kicks off, with appropriate fanfare, on Tuesday and wraps up on Oct. 15 at the Kennedy Space Center.


"Fortunately, it's not a race," says Kravit, a United Airlines pilot (and Coldwell Banker Realtor) who is using two years of vacation time to participate. Nor is this great eastward roll a fund-raiser.


The whole effort, he says, is to raise awareness, and hopefully motivate people, to help save lives through organ, tissue and blood donations. Approximately 55 people applied to be part of the team. Selected on the basis of cycling experience and the stories they had to tell were 12 core riders and three riders from South Africa who will each do one-third of the ride.

"Everywhere we stop we'll have media events, speaking engagements, and blood and donor drives," Kravit says. Celebrities and townspeople are expected to join the riders as they pedal through communities, large and small.


Each of the cyclists has a compelling story to share.


Kravit's story begins in 2001 "when my 24-year-old nephew, David Buist [of Boca Raton], was diagnosed with a rare and, until David's case, always fatal lymphoma," he says.


Buist spent a year at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center fighting the seemingly impossible odds.

During that time, Buist asked his Uncle Garry for two things. The first was to help raise funds for a new Ronald McDonald House in Manhattan. Through an auction and solicitations, Kravit raised in David's name $60,000.


Faced with the prospect of needing a bone marrow transplant, Buist made yet another request. "I want you guys," he said to Kravit and his wife Karen, "to go out and get everyone you possibly can to become bone marrow donors."


"OK," said Kravit, "we'll do that."


During the next several months, Buist underwent chemotherapy, radiation, two stem cell transplants (his brother was the donor), "a more refined bone marrow transplant," and had his spleen removed.


Kravit quickly realized, as he stated in his ride application, "A person can have the best doctors in the world, the best medical technology has to offer, the will to live, and all of the love and support that can be mustered, but if the blood product, bone marrow, or organ isn't there when it's needed, all of the rest will likely not keep the individual alive."


It is that message that propels Kravit, astride a sparse aluminum frame with a narrow, wedge seat, to crank out mile after weary mile for the next several weeks.


"Because when I hoped and prayed and cried for my nephew to make it through a terrible and seemingly unbeatable disease, he did," says Kravit.


And today, 31/2 years after diagnosis, Buist, married and working in his family's contracting business, "looks like he's on his way to being the very first case of hepatosplenic T-Cell gamma/delta lymphoma to be cured," says Kravit.


That is the power of whole blood and tissue and organ donations.


Leslie Jones, a rider from Gainesville, will share the story of how a blood transfusion and a respirator saved her life following a near fatal car accident 13 years ago.


Alex Quick, a 19-year-old student at the University of California at San Diego, will talk about the campus organization called Donor Dudes that he founded to educate youth and promote donations.


The riders will be followed by three support vans, stocked with beverages, sandwiches and snacks. Nights will be spent in hotels.

Should riders encounter unsafe weather, a tornado or hurricane, for example, they'll be transported by van to the next location.

With events planned at every stopover, sitting it out for a few days is not an option, says ride coordinator Cate Boyett, of Gainesville.


She and the others are hoping they'll get through the Rockies before the snow sets in.


Kravit, who previously was a leisure mountain biker, began working out seriously about five months ago when notified he'd been chosen for the Five Points team.


When not flying, he does a 50- to 75-mile ride a day. "Once a week, I try to do a century ride."


He also does stretching and light weight training. When out of town, he works out on an exercise bike.


The bike he'll be taking cross-country is a Felt 50 (provided by the organizers) weighing about 18 pounds.


Despite Kravit's inexperience in long-distance cycling, he is not ill-prepared.


For one thing, he becomes almost obsessive when he takes up a new sport or challenge, reading everything on the subject he can find.


It goes back to his learning to fly. "I started flying at 15," he says. "I knew I didn't know enough to keep myself alive. I didn't have the maturity or the experience. The only thing I could do is take other people's experiences and learn from them."


It was the same with sky diving, and now with cycling. He's careful about avoiding dehydration. He knows injuries from road abrasion are more easily and thoroughly cleaned on legs or arms that are shaved. He knows it's important before each ride to check the brakes, to inspect the tires for nicks, and to make sure the tires are properly inflated. And he knows the importance of a high-quality and properly fitting helmet.


"Garry doesn't do anything halfway," says Buist. "It's always full force. You know he can do just about anything. Once he finds a cause worth fighting for, he goes all the way."


Kravit's 14-year-old daughter, Michelle, who wants to be a professional cyclist (a dream sparked by television coverage of the recent Tour de France) is proud of what her dad is doing, but has reservations.


"I think I'm really lucky to be able to say my dad is riding across the country on a bike. Not many kids can say that," she notes.

But at the same time, not having Dad around is going to be an adjustment. " It's just going to be weird without him. But I'm really proud of him, and it's something I wish I could do one day."


Kai, Kravit's 17-year-old musician and songwriting son, is more nonchalant. "If he wants to do it, that's his thing."

Karen is fully confident her husband is up to the challenge. "He's been training like a mad man. He's fully prepared," she says .

Yet, like her daughter, she has mixed emotions.


"I think it's a wonderful thing he's doing, obviously. It's exciting for him, a real challenge for him, so I'm excited . And it pleases me that what he's doing means so much to David.


"On the other hand, I'm not going to have my husband around for two months." That's the longest they've been apart in 18 years of marriage. "But we'll survive," she says.


And advice she's given Kravit to take on the road? "Don't skip meals. Low blood sugar is his enemy."


Margo Harakas can be reached at or 954-356-4728.




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