Downtown mother searches for bone marrow donor

By Sebastian Kahnert

Time is against Lisa Gershowitz Flynn, a Downtown mother suffering from leukemia and desperately seeking a bone-marrow donor.

The 41-year-old lawyer was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia one day after Thanksgiving — the birthday of her three-year-old daughter. Two chemotherapies were unsuccessful, and Flynn needs a bone-marrow donor of Eastern European Jewish or Ashkenazi decent to cure the cancer.

Flynn’s search received a boost from actress Kate Winslet, whose kids are friends with Flynn’s children. Winslet made several TV appearances and raised public awareness to find a match.

“We need all the donors we can get,” said Alina Suprunova, donor recruitment coordinator for D.K.M.S. — a German acronym for the bone marrow donor center. Flynn joined D.K.M.S. one month ago after leaving Gift of Life — a bone marrow registry that focuses on Jewish donors but charges its recipient for donor drives.

D.K.M.S., however, is the world’s largest marrow donor center that organizes donor drives for Flynn, according to Katharina Harf, the group’s executive vice president. She also said that Flynn is no longer responding to press inquiries, which have multiplied in recent weeks, and is looking to spend more time with her family.

Her condition is critical and it is impossible to tell how much time she has, Harf said.

One of D.K.M.S.’ drives was held last week at Support by Design Inc., a Tribeca pediatric therapy for children which Flynn’s son Michael, 5, has been visiting for three years. The owner, Linda Rowe, wanted to help Flynn.

“It was a shock when we found out that she had that illness,” Rowe explained, “so we were looking for an opportunity to do something.”

The drive, attracted 71 donors who volunteered for the donor bank through a simple cheek swab, adding to the 4,000 people who already registered with D.K.M.S. over the last month.

One of them is Richard Rubin who works for a publishing company and fits the Jewish background.

“I live in the area,” Rubin said, who used his lunch break to become a donor, “and I try to be a giver, wherever I can be.”

If a match is identified, the donor either undergoes a painless surgical procedure, usually outpatient, to donate healthy stem cells from the pelvic bone; or the donor receives daily medication for four to five days before blood is removed from one arm, which cycles through a machine that extracts the cells for the transplant, and is then returned through the other arm.

Terry Makover, a 59-year-old therapist at Support by Design Inc., wanted to become a donor as well, but was too old to qualify.

“I sent a prayer instead,” Makover said, looking out on the busy street where a huge sign invited passers-by to join the drive.

The age limit is between 18 and 55, a restriction that kept 65-year-old Jeffrey Ramsay from becoming a donor, but the co-director of the Village Preschool Center, which Flynn’s children attend, used old ties to help find a match.

The Dartmouth College alumnus contacted his old school, hoping to find more donors.

Village Preschool’s parents contacted over 200 people and encouraged them to add their name to the donor’s list, Ramsay said. The preschool also emails Flynn frequently, sending her pictures of her two kids at school. Due to the chemotherapy, Flynn cannot go out as much because she’s more susceptible for infections and has to limit her exposure to germs.

“I hope that everybody does what’s necessary,” Ramsay said in a telephone interview, “so Lisa can see her kids grow up.”

The next donor drive will be on Friday, March 7 at N.Y.U.’s Brittany Residence Hall on 55 East 10 St. from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on Sunday, March 16 at the Forest Hills Jewish Center on 106-06 Queens Blvd. from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Donor drives in and outside of New York City are scheduled daily at www.giftforlisa.com.