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.
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."
"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."
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