This week, I met with Brian Flynn for a no-holds-barred interview on his run for Congress, his business ventures, a family tragedy, a life of activism, civic engagement, and the donation of not one, but two living organs. All that, and more, from Brian's home in Elka Park, NY.
This episode was edited by our production intern, Skye Ruse. Please support our supporters: the Phoenicia Playhouse and the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce.
--- Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/kaatscast/support
Transcribed by Jerome Kazlauskas via otter.ai
Brett Barry 0:03
Welcome back to Kaatscast, the biweekly podcast featuring local interviews, arts and culture, and sustainability in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley.
Brian Flynn 0:13
Can you hear me now?
Brett Barry 0:13
Brian Flynn 0:14
Oh, that's good. What a gorgeous voice!
Brett Barry 0:19
This week, I sat with Brian Flynn in person for a no-holds-barred interview on his run for Congress, his business ventures, a family tragedy, activism, community service, and the donation of not one but two living organs. All that and more from Brian's home in Elka Park, New York.
Brian Flynn 0:15
My name is Brian Flynn and we are in the beautiful Catskill Mountains in Elka Park, New York (which is in the town of Hunter).
Brett Barry 0:48
How did you find this house or this property? How did that all come about?
Brian Flynn 0:51
Like most things with me, it usually comes down to having too much to drink. So we came up to see friends up here who have been here for years and they said, "Hey, we'd love to have you come to the Catskills and my father grew up coming to the Catskills," so I'd already heard about it as a kid. So we came to visit our friends right here in Elka Park and it was a beautiful fall weekend and we played tennis, we went hiking, they were having an afternoon barbecue and party. I said, "Oh my god, this is heaven." And again, maybe I had one glass of wine too many. But later on that evening, I had agreed to rebuild a Victorian house that had burned down about three or four years beforehand. This community is a community of about 20 homes and they're all built around 1892 ... and so one of the homes had burned down and I decided that I was going to rebuild a Victorian from scratch and here we are.
Brett Barry 1:43
It's a beautiful home. How long did the process take?
Brian Flynn 1:45
Well, I would run out of money every six months or so. So it took longer than it should have and (of course, building Victorian) they stopped building them for good reason because everything's custom. So it took about two and a half years, but it was well worth it and Amy has all the taste and she and our wonderful architect (Lynn Gaffney) did a beautiful job designing a home that on the outside looks much like the other homes, even the paint is peeling now like the other homes in the area, but at the same time, the inside is much larger and doesn't have the small rooms that are reminiscent of Victorians.
Brett Barry 2:17
What's this community like it has a long history...what's it like living here?
Brian Flynn 2:20
It's magical. We're very lucky to have found it. A lot of the people were seasonal and we decided to move here full-time (about four or five years ago) after coming up on weekends as my career evolved and I could work more from home and work remotely even before COVID, but now a lot of people are here full-time as well based on COVID, but some of them have decided to stay anyway. What's great about it is the 20 homeshare (about a thousand acres), which we have for hiking and just beautiful waterfalls and there's tennis courts and a pool and all that and there's also a bar and restaurant and a little area to have parties. So during the summer, it's 10 weekends of (some sort of) event every weekend. So from an Oktoberfest to July 4th barbecue to black tie events, which are just a ton of fun and our kids really loved growing up here. And now, they both go to the local high school in town, which is a terrific school and have developed great friendships outside of Elka Park in the Greater Hunter-Tannersville area, so we lucked out and feel very fortunate.
Brett Barry 3:18
First time we met was in 2017. You and I and your wife (Amy) were cast members in the "World War II Radio Christmas" and he played the Bing Crosby character (I think) or someone models.
Brian Flynn 3:30
Yes, they tried to have me avoid singing, which is a good idea. Everyone in my family can sing except for me.
Brett Barry 3:37
That was at Phoenicia Playhouse and you've done a few productions there.
Brian Flynn 3:40
Yeah, the Phoenicia Playhouse is another great little gem here in the Catskills. Amy's done a few shows. She's directed shows there. I've done a few shows there. My favorite story was when Amy was doing "Mamma Mia" and it was a Sunday morning. The matinee was at two o'clock and one of the men in the play got sick and couldn't do it. The Phoenicia Playhouse (as you know) does not have understudies, so Amy volunteered me to learn the part in three hours and go on stage and do it and they said, "Oh, you know, it's community theater, you can carry your ... carry your script." I said, "I will not carry my script. I will learn the part and do it," and the gentleman who is doing it had chosen to do an American accent. The character is written as a British character and I'm reading the lines. I said, "Oh wait, he's from London." I said, "Oh, we change that." I said, "No, we're going back to that," so I affected a bad British accent and learn depart in three hours and just it was so great. People were so generous in the audience and the other cast members as I was fumbling about onstage.
Brett Barry 4:37
It's amazing! Great job!
Brian Flynn 4:40
Brett Barry 4:41
Not having seen it, you did a great job ... but you have a long connection to theater or community theater being part of it and you went to college or at least had a minor in it, right?
Brian Flynn 4:50
So I went to college thinking that I was an athlete and I played tennis at Georgetown for two years and then I blew out my knee during the summer (between sophomore and junior year), so my tennis thing was kind of done. I wasn't very good anyway. So I always wanted to do theater and I did a little bit when I was a kid, but in my family, it was more about sports when I was in high school. So I went to an audition for a role and I didn't tell anyone and none ... I didn't know anybody in the theatre department at the time and it was for "Equus." There's people playing horses and they have costumes and it's part of the whole conceit of the play developed by the playwright and it's a terrific, terrific show, but I'm being very quiet and I go in for my first audition ever and it's ... of course ... it's college theater. So people take it very seriously and they walk in and it's dark and the director and the producer sitting up in the audience and they've got a little ... just a little desk light on. So there's just these voices in the dark telling me what to do. So I go in, I read for a few parts and then they say, "Okay, Brian, there's a movement in this play." Okay, I do movement. I said, "Okay, well, we'd like to see how you move." Alright, great. What I got to do, they said, "Okay, don't think about it. Just express through movement, the birth, life and death of a deer," so I thought, well, I don't even know who they are and I got nothing to lose. So I did what was arguably probably a really bad and embarrassing version of the birth life and death of a deer and (of course) I got shot at the end to channel the Bambi situation. I did not get a part as a horse but I did get one of the supporting league and I ended up minoring in theater and absolutely loving it and did dozen plus shows in my last few years of Georgetown and develop great friendships from that and (sort of) continued that passion and a lot of it was reignited up here when we came to the Catskills because it's actually hard to do community theater living in a city, but up here there's a more welcoming and forgiving audience. Let's put it that way. So I've been able to ... to reignite that passion.
Brett Barry 6:50
I thought I saw some deerlike moves on that stage for "World War II Christmas."
Brian Flynn 6:54
I was so bad. It's so embarrassing.
Brett Barry 6:56
Well, I had so much fun working with you on "World War II Christmas" that five months later, we went on tour together. I don't know if you remember this, but there were three stops on the tour: Troy, Liberty, and Oneonta. This was the Brian Flynn for Congress Medicare for All Tour.
Brian Flynn 7:14
Yes (god), good memory.
Brett Barry 7:17
So you were running for Congress against our (soon to be) one-term congressman (John Faso) and it was ... it was a crowded field. There were seven of you running that primary.
Brian Flynn 7:26
Brett Barry 7:26
And this ... this tour we did together, my only role was to run sound was espousing the benefits of Medicare for All with a panel of highly knowledgeable doctors and experts. What made you throw your hat into that ring to begin with?
Brian Flynn 7:39
I had forgotten we were on tour together. I have this image (of course) that's going around a tour bus ... staying up late. Yeah, exactly. You got to what we did on tour. So I've always been involved in activism and been involved in politics often as someone who either raised money or helped candidates. In fact, I helped Senator Gillibrand when she first ran in this area for Congress back in 2006 (I guess it was), so all that activism and everything I'd done throughout my life including advocating for Medicare for All (since around 2004). I decided, "Okay, well, you know, why don't I see if I could actually take it to the next step and put that passion that I had for it into action," and then of course, I'm very "Type A" and ... and I didn't just kind of dabble I dove in, I quit my day job and went for it to see if I could make it, and then it ended up the field kept growing and growing and ended up being seven people who all of whom have become friends through the process, you know, it was fun when they were like sparring partners and a bunch of talented people and I can't tell you how excited I am that Congressman Delgado not only won, but he's won again. He won a second term and what's great about him winning is that I really believe he had the best sense of humor because he would always laugh at my jokes first and most enthusiastically and he's a terrific congressman and a great person.
Brett Barry 9:00
Why was Medicare for All such a centerpiece of your platform?
Brian Flynn 9:03
I believe (fundamentally) that health care is the right, similar to a public education. It is a right and something we value as a society and it's something we should invest in and provide for, but in addition to that (as a business person), I can't stand the fact that we waste so much money and resources with a bureaucracy of health insurance and honestly the corruption of the health insurance industry and I think that small business owners and entrepreneurs and individuals would have more power if they weren't relying on their employer for health insurance and it's something that just is maddening to me; and in fact, I've set up a nonprofit once I stopped running for congress that's exclusively focused on advocating for Medicare for All. So we produce information and reports and just try to keep advocating for because in the end, I think we'll get there but you really have to hasten it and move it along. Because it shouldn't be that you're so tied to your employer and it would be cheaper for everyone. It would be more efficient and you'd get better health outcomes. So it seems to me that it's just the most rational. In addition to the moral aspects, it's also the most rational and the most economically beneficial.
Brett Barry 10:08
And I can vouch because I listened to all three of these roundtable discussions.
Brian Flynn 10:12
As you were on tour.
Brett Barry 10:14
And I learned a lot. Is Antonio Delgado doing any of the things that you had hoped to do in that position?
Brian Flynn 10:20
Yeah, he's doing a lot better than I would have. He's very hard working ... and yes, I'm very hard working as well, but he is better as part of a deliberative body. He does work extremely well with other people. I've been a president of a number of companies and small and large and I've learned through the process. I'm actually not the most collaborative and deliberative person. I'm much more of a driver and he is shown that he can get things done by working with others by keeping his constituents and top of mind. So I actually think the skills that he brought to the table, in addition to his innate way of dealing with people has made him really successful. So I ... he is much better than I would have been.
Brett Barry 11:02
Guess we'll never really know though.
Brian Flynn 11:03
No, no, we will not. I like to say that people have spoken. I've learned my lesson.
Brett Barry 11:11
Brian's political activism goes back to his college years (when in 1988), his brother (J.P.) was killed in a terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Is it okay if we talk a little bit about your brother?
Brian Flynn 11:28
Yeah, of course. Yeah.
Brett Barry 11:29
So your political activism goes back a long way ... did it start with Pan Am 103 and was that a motivation for you getting into activism politics or was it already in you?
Brian Flynn 11:41
My mother was an activist when I was growing up. So I add that model (if she was always politically active), even before she had kids, so I had that person to emulate, but I was 19 years old and I wasn't very politically active as a 19-year-old when my brother was killed. I was a sophomore in college and when it happened, I went from being the somewhat carefree college student just doing what self-indulgent college students doing to (all of a sudden) being thrown into an international incident (where I'm sitting in Lockerbie, Scotland) and my mother is yelling at Margaret Thatcher and I'm trying to tell her to calm down and she's saying that justice must be done and I remember her sitting on the couch one night (not we weren't getting a lot of sleep at the time) and I remember her speaking to a cabinet secretary. My son will not die in vain. We will find out who did this and we will bring them to justice and I remember saying, "Okay, well, this is our life now," and this is what we're called to do and my sisters were younger and my father took more of a supportive role, but I jumped right in with my mother and I remember (weeks later) I was at a protest in front of the White House because they weren't releasing information. There was a lot of things that could have been done to prevent the bombing and we actually lobbied to get them to establish a presidential commission, which did actually come out and definitively say that the bombing could have been prevented, if the airline (Pan Am) actually followed the security protocols that were already in place. So to have your brother murdered in an act of war, but also knowing that because of greed (it could have been prevented and it wasn't all of those things), I guess, sparked an interest in me and kind of made me very passionate about getting involved and being an activist and I was just talking to my kids the other day about and it's a silly commercial from ... I think it's Volkswagen. In life, there are passengers that are drivers and I think I learned like my mother that I am definitely a driver and need to do something about it and to be involved and to take a very proactive approach.
Brett Barry 13:36
What came out of your activism at that time (so it led to improvements)?
Brian Flynn 13:42
First and foremost, we were able to hold Pan Am responsible; and in fact, we helped drive them into bankruptcy because throughout the organization, we're able to prove gross negligence and willful misconduct, which is very difficult to prove. We were also able to establish new security protocols (many of which), if they had followed all the recommendations that we as family members and advocates and made many of them would have prevented September 11th. We also lobbied to have the U.S. hold the states that sponsored terrorism responsible, so there were unilateral sanctions that were put on Libya when it was determined that they were behind the bombing; and in fact, they indicted the bombers and the co-conspirators and eventually held Muammar Gaddafi responsible as well. That would never have happened without the legwork of the family members and went on for 20 plus years (our advocacy work). We had one guy in prison and one guy got off and I remember sitting in capsized in the Netherlands when the verdict was read and one of them was convicted and I wrote an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal is saying that and remember this was February 2001 ... that we have to take seriously the threat of terrorism and not just put one guy in prison, but to hold the states that sponsored the terrorism responsible and what will it take for us to take this threat seriously ... we'll take another USS Cole, another Lockerbie, or something far worse. So a few months later, when September 11th happened when people searched terrorism, my name came up; and in fact, I spent that day (September 11th) doing radio shows because I'd learned so much about terrorism and the threats that are out there who could have been behind it and what could have been done to prevent it. So it kind of connected the two largest acts of terrorism against the United States were kind of woven together by those experiences.
Brett Barry 15:32
And so that incident was a failure on the part of the airline and the government and I guess multiple parties were partly to blame.
Brian Flynn 15:39
Yeah, exactly. So a lot of the TSA (for example) didn't exist before September 11th. We had suggested that prior to that the airline's themselves paid for the security. So there was inconsistency in how it was delivered the policies that we'd suggested like matching people to bags (doing background checks, all that stuff), if we put in place it could have prevented 9/11.
Brett Barry 16:01
What was the biggest thing that Pan Am did wrong that you say would have prevented this from happening?
Brian Flynn 16:07
They were supposed to match interline bags, so these are bags that go from one airline to another and they're supposed to match them to passengers and that went that did exist and they explicitly chose not to do that and they ... they were supposed to hand check those types of bags and they explicitly took the people off of that, even though they said they were doing. They even put on a security fee because the threat of terrorism in the 1980s was pretty severe. They put on a security fee and never used that money to (in fact) do anything to improve security.
Brett Barry 16:37
So you were a college student where?
Brian Flynn 16:39
Brett Barry 16:40
And your brother was at Colgate?
Brian Flynn 16:41
He was at Colgate and he was part of the Syracuse program studying in London. He was on his way back for Christmas. It was December 21st.
Brett Barry 16:48
I went to Syracuse in the mid '90s and was aware of this largely through what they have now, which is the scholarship?
Brian Flynn 16:54
Scholarship. Oh, yeah. This is the Scholars Program. Sure.
Brett Barry 16:57
And each of the students ... 35 students (your brother being one of them led to a scholarship for 35 students every year).
Brian Flynn 17:03
Syracuse has done an incredible job as a great school not just because you went there. It was a great school even without you going there and the administration (there) was incredible such a great support network for the families and also the scholar program, so we often hear from the individuals who get the scholarship in his name and it's just such a great connection and they've done just an excellent job and it's a great institution.
Brett Barry 17:24
Tell me just a little bit about your brother.
Brian Flynn 17:26
I love talking about him because he was the boy next door (he was the nice one) and there's the, you know, only the good die young and I remember when he died, I can even feel I've ever being in a memorial service and people looking at me and I can see in their eyes. I might have imagined this or projected this or whatever, but I think (alright of course) the nice one got killed. I've always been sharper edged. Then, he was, you know, he was a tennis coach and he was a basketball coach. He took care of the kids and ... and was just really a sweet, sweet guy and would be a good mentor to other teens and everything ... and so when he died, it was that sweet kid was the one who was killed. So that was really hard on the community and (especially) on my parents and also took me into a different light. I was a youngest child for five years before my sisters were born. I spent about 15 years as a middle child and (all of a sudden) I was thrown into being an oldest child and I did. I had definitely I was a much better middle child than an older child. That was a new role that had to play and I remember this very explicitly that I was looking for meaning whatever and I read a newspaper (a few days after he died) that the principal of the school was talking about him that Daily News that interviewed him and he basically said J.P. Flynn was the type of man who would have made a difference. So then I took it ... that he was speaking to me and that was what I was supposed to do is not just be a self-indulgent college student, but figure out how I can make a difference in life and that's kind of led to this constant nagging thing in my ethos that I have to do more to make a difference and that's a good thing. For example, I ... I still run a basketball program on Saturday mornings in the winter for some kids and that's what he would have done ... and so I was able to (kind of) keep his spirit alive and do that. I absolutely love and I love, you know, that whole thing. It's like three or four hours a whole family does and the kids come and they ref the games and all that. It's become a family affair where we go ... and so I like the idea of keeping his spirit alive that way.
Brett Barry 19:21
What's the importance of political activism or at least civic engagement for the every person?
Brian Flynn 19:26
It's funny, I wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review about whether you should talk about politics at work. The number of people were asked to write opinions and I wrote that. You should because I think if people actually got more passionate about and talked about it more. They'd feel more engaged and feel the ownership of it because I've always felt that it's easy to say, "Oh, I don't want to talk about politics or ... or to step away from it and say it's not healthy and growing up in an Irish family, you can't go to dinner because the food is usually not that good," but the conversation and the debate and the ... they use the expression from Ireland to crack is it's amazing, right? So I remember you couldn't, especially with my mother, she's very, she's actually a successful extemporaneous speaker like she'd pick trophies for winning extemporary speaking competitions. So you'd come to Sunday dinner and you better have had your arguments lined up and when I'm talking like eight ... nine years old, you know, she would ask us questions and she's very argumentative (understandably) ... and so she would pick fights and she would switch sides during a discussion in order to challenge you to hone and sharpen your arguments. The ... that type of sense of being involved and being engaged and then debating it and talking about it. It is an Irish tradition, but it's also become part of our upbringing. I'm not as good as my mother was at it, but I ... I tried to with my kids, but I think if you're not engaged and ... and participating in your community, whether it's an abroad issue like Black Lives Matter that you're ... you're part of an issue that's nationwide and even global or even just in your town about issues in your individual community. You really start to not be connected and not being part of something bigger than yourself and that's always what drives me to it.
Brett Barry 21:08
After the break, Brian's business during the pandemic, a double organ donation, and a peek at the horizon. This episode is sponsored by the Phoenicia Playhouse. A historic 150-seat community playhouse that's home to community theater, film screenings, local community events, road productions, and corporate meetings. The playhouse is located in the beautiful hamlet of Phoenicia, New York. Find out more at phoeniciaplayhouse.com and on Facebook and Instagram. Kaatscast is sponsored by the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce. Providing services to businesses, community organizations, and local governments in the Central Catskills region. Follow the Central Catskills Chamber of Commerce on Facebook and sign up for a weekly email of local events at centralcatskills.org. So political advocacy, community theater, these ... these things ... these things don't pay the bills. So it occurs to me that ...
Brian Flynn 22:13
Especially if you've seen me in any theater.
Brett Barry 22:15
But your Medicare for All platform may have come out of your (let's say) day job. So what do you ... what do you do for a living, Brian?
Brian Flynn 22:21
So I've been an entrepreneur for decades and it's very hard work and I always tell people to say I think or to start my own business and I always say, you know, if you don't have to, and if there's anything else you can do and be reasonably happy. Try that because it's ... it's very stressful and it's very hard and any entrepreneur would tell you that, but some of ... some people just can't do otherwise. So I ... about in the late '90s, I started my first (one of my first companies) with some friends, and then it's been that way ever since, and then tried to go back and get a job in marketing (in financial services after the dot com bust) and I went in and I said, "I really would love this job." I was very excited to have like a paycheck again and not have to worry about things and I said, you know, you really qualified and we'd love to have you, but we think that soon as your next entrepreneur idea comes up, you're just going to leave and I was like, "No, really, I just want to go to meetings and I just want to be part of a team and really I don't want to ... I don't want to do that anymore and I didn't get the job and there may have been other reasons (who knows?), but I said to Amy ... I said somebody burned the ships. I didn't what somebody did and I can't go back. So I haven't really had a traditional corporate job since the late '90s. One of the companies that I started was a business advisory firm with someone called Ed Schlossberg and it was creatively named Schlosberg/Flynn was the name of our company and one of the companies I found was a medical device manufacturing company and I helped stabilize and turn the company around and help figure out a growth plan and eventually became a president of that company and we grew it from $20 million to over $100 million. It was really fun and it was a great experience and they were great people working there and I ... I learned a lot of how my ability to drive. Things to completion can be used in that environment effectively to help lead people and to help keep them focused and to make a difference. So it was ... it was a great experience; and now, I'm doing the same thing again. We've taken a company for around 10 or 12 million dollars. We got involved in 2018. And now, we're continue to grow that and we have three factories around the country that make medical devices including test kits for COVID, so it's been a busy and challenging year for us like it has for most people.
Brett Barry 24:25
So you're a busy entrepreneur. You're politically active. You do a little community theater on the side.
Brian Flynn 24:31
Brett Barry 24:33
We went on tour, and then with all the extra time you have quite the drive for, you know, volunteerism, altruism, you and Amy, that seems to be an important thing for both of you.
Brian Flynn 24:44
Brett Barry 24:45
And then on the cusp of your 50th birthday (you thought), I can do more.
Brian Flynn 24:51
Brett Barry 24:52
Tell me about the kidney you used to have.
Brian Flynn 24:55
I told you earlier that whenever ... whenever I have that second or third margarita, it leads to questionable decisions afterwards, but often they all work out. So I was out with a work friend and I did have that third margarita and I go back to my room and go to Facebook and also I saw a post from a friend of mine who was very sick. I didn't know this and she needed a kidney and it was all these comments in there and I said, "Oh my god, the poor thing." I had no idea and I'm way down in the comments like 164 comments and I wrote, "Hey, I'm a universal donor for blood." Does that help for donating kidneys and I didn't ... I mean ... I didn't really mean it. So I close the computer and I wake up in the morning and I noticed she responded to me and said, "Yes, it does. Here's the phone number to call to get tested." Oh, so I call and I got tested and eventually we were a match, and (fortunately) for me, her husband also was a match and he just had to pass a test that he couldn't get past and eventually got through the test and he ended up giving her kidney and she's doing great. So that was terrific. So after I lose the primary election after investing, you know, a year and a half of my life going on tour with you. I said, "You know, I really want to do something before I turned 50, and you know, I really don't think I've done enough in my life," and maybe it's survivor guilt since my brother died that, you know, he would have done more or, you know, I should do more than just kind of bothering me and I'm like ... maybe it's like a midlife crisis. "And so I said to Amy, you know, maybe before I turn 50 and get too old, maybe I should get rid of a kidney that was such a good thing." Maybe I should do that right. "And she said, 'Whatever, dear.' So two days later, she was on Facebook, and she found a posting from a friend of ours whose brother whom we didn't know, needed a kidney, and she forwarded it to me and said, 'it looks like you have your chance to get rid of that kidney.' So I go and I got tested, and I was a match." I had never met Greg, but I know his sister (Casson) was a teacher for our kids and a coach. So we were a match, and then they say, "Oh, well, again, someone else is going to do it. So we don't need your kidney." I'm a great, you know, I can't even do this. I'm on a Friday afternoon with Bo in the car. I said, "See, Bo, I tried to do the right thing, but nobody wants it, you know, the heck with it," and this lovely woman. She's Irish Marian ... here's her name. She's the donor advisor. I think they kind of typecast me. They said, "Oh, we'll put the Irish donor advisor with him because he'll fall for emmish. They're completely right. She is ... she could sell anything to me. Tell Brian ... "Hi, it's Marian here." It says, you know, I told you that ... that we had another donor for Greg with that donor fell through, you know, so you'll be coming for testing on Monday (you would) and I might ... I just was telling my son that I'm out. Just no, no, nah, nay, not, not that bright. No, you still want to do it don't you ... and I said, "Yes, of course, I want to do it." So I went in got tested and we were going for a vacation and I said, "Am I allowed to go away? Yeah, but soon as you come back, we'll get you suited." So it was actually the day before my daughter's birthday that they scheduled the surgery and I met Greg for the first time before going into the surgery that morning.
Brett Barry 27:50
And what was that experience like donating the kidney fear excitement?
Brian Flynn 27:54
This is I don't know this. This is a common feeling about the experience, but my biggest fear was failing. I didn't talk about it other people beforehand. I didn't want anyone to know about it because I didn't want to fail. Because a lot of things can go wrong up until the point you actually go through the surgery. You can have a health issue. The recipient can have a health issue, so I was so anxious (not about the surgery or anything). I was anxious about failing and not being able to do something important and to help out Greg. So that was the anxiety I felt going in, and then you walk in and you go through the surgery, and then five or six hours later, you wake up and my first question to Amy was "How's Greg?" Because that's you're just worried about them because you're fine, right? Your health is fine. Greg's really sick and needed this desperately and she said, "It's fine. It's working." It was very successful and that ... that moment ... that feeling was just the emotion was just incredible. We've been fortunate to have two kids and that pretty powerful experience (to say the least), but this was something slightly different and it was overwhelming. I said to Bo and Amy ... the next day I said, "I really think I'm changed by this. I really think I'm gonna become, you know, a person of light," and they're like, "Oh my god, the morphine is too much." They're just like this is ... this is ... this is way too much and because I experienced ... I have become slightly less negative and ... and less angry at the world and just a little more appreciative of every day and of other people and it has made me maybe not quite a person of light, but I have become less dark. Let's put it that way from that experience.
Brett Barry 29:30
You've gone on to have a nice relationship with ...
Brian Flynn 29:33
Oh, Greg. Yeah, he's ... he's a terrific guy, and since then, he's gotten married, he's got a new career, and he's like blossoming because (it's if) since he was about 12 or 13, it was always about him being kept back by this kidney disease. So this was a big deal. Just really and it's ... he's got the best wife in the world. They're terrific and he and I text and have become friends because of that.
Brett Barry 29:58
That experience (as you say) made you was it a man of light?
Brian Flynn 30:02
Man of light.
Brett Barry 30:05
Man of light.
Brian Flynn 30:06
Here it happened. It took a long time.
Brett Barry 30:07
And a man of light (of course) would ... would do it again. So you can't donate a second kidney and live to tell about it. So what happened next?
Brian Flynn 30:16
Greg and I were texting one night and (again say) this is it ... the trend, I think I'd been out and had that second or third glass of wine. "And I was thanking him when, you know, you get a little bit, you know, sentimental and gushy about these things and I was thanking him again for the honor to be out to help him because it's meant so much to me in my life. And he said, well, if it really was such a great experience for you, I hear you can give away your liver. Haha." And I read that and I said, "You can? So then, of course, I looked it up, and I found out you can! Living liver donations is a thing. And then I did the research, it's, you know, four or five times more dangerous, and it's not as common and it's a more serious process. But, of course, being hypercompetitive and like, "Oh, it's harder. I got to do that." So then I brought it up with Amy and her first reaction was ... Why? Why would you want to? I said, Well, because I think doing the kidney was great, and a really good experience, and doing the liver and the kidney would be, would be extraordinary, and how often in life do you get to do something extraordinary." And in candidly, I finally found something I'm good at, you know, suffering and pain is ... is, you know, that's what we do and maybe it is just being Irish. It's just the millennia of oppression and suffering that we just don't let it go and the martyrdom, but it was not that bad for me. I was able to recover quickly and from the kidney surgery, I was backbone. I played in a tennis tournament six or seven weeks after that. I was terrible, but I said it, you know, that was a pretty quick rebound. I said, "I think I can do it." So she said, "Well, why don't you look into it?" So I contacted Marian again and I said to her, "Marian, here's a question. I don't know if anyone ever asked you this, can you do both?" And she said, "I'm going to have to look into that I've never actually had anyone ask that question, but let me ask," And she came back and she said, "Yes, we hear other people have done it." This is what she said. So I said, "Great." And she said, "But the testing is very rigorous and it's a big deal and you should seriously do your research before you do it." So I went and did the research, and then I went and the testing is pretty extensive. This is very different than the kidney. It's a two day battery of tests including MRIs and CAT scans and ... and everything and stress tests and all these different things to make sure you can do it and I went through all of that, and then found out that I was a decent donor (I think was August of last year that I found out). Alright, you can do it. We just have to find someone and they told me based on the shape of my liver, it would make more sense for me to give to a child than an adult and they said, "We actually don't have that many children." Because a lot of times its parents or relatives who want to give to a kid, you know, the old guy who needs a liver, not many people run to help them out. But children is often easier to get people to do living organ donations; and I said, "Oh, okay, well, maybe it won't happen then." So I could go and I'm at work and it was a very difficult time and work last year because of the pandemic. A lot of companies are struggling because you had trouble getting people to come to work and we were making, as I said, COVID test kits, so we had to produce them. So it was really a difficult time. So I was on a Saturday, I was at work at one of the factories and I got a phone call that I didn't recognize it isn't. "Hello, Brian. Is it? Yeah, wait, hold on. I'm on the factory floor. Let me step outside. Listen. This is Dr. Samstein. We have a match for you and we have a child who needs your liver. It's a four-year-old boy," and I'm thinking they made that up because no one's gonna turn down the four year old boy. I'm like it's not a four year old boy. It's some old guy that needs it ... I don't believe it. I said, "Okay. Yeah, I'm in, I'm in, I'm in. This is what I said I wanted to do, this is fine. Things are really busy at work. And this is late October. So you want to do like, you know, December, I'll get my affairs in order, as they say. And he said, No, we don't have time. 10 days, we're doing it November 3rd. Election Day? And he said, yes. So vote early. And we'll see you on November 3rd." So I had to run around, do all the stuff at work. And I had to fly to New York, I was at one of our factories in the midwest, and I'd fly to New York and do more testing than to fly to California for more customer stuff. And then back to New York, and I'm walking into the surgery and because of COVID they got very quick at getting you through the hospitals, there's not a lot of waiting around and I'll get there at 7:30 and it had to have been maybe 8:15. I'm in the operating room and about 10 people in the room and I'm about to get up ... on their turn you walk in because you're perfectly fine and I had his moment of absolute panic. "Like, what am I doing? Like, who does this?" And it was it was just a moment of, this is the stupidest thing that you're choosing. To you have them cut you open, do like all these incisions, and you didn't have to do this. What I just described was much longer than the moment was, but it was a panic. And what it said to me is that courage is not the absence of fear. It's just moving ahead even when there is fear. Now I said, "Okay, it's time for you to show just an ounce of courage." And it proves that I'm not delusional and I'm not crazy, because I realized the risk and I realized what I was doing and I realized that it was worth it." And in fact, you have to go through a psych evaluation, in order to get approved for this. And the psychiatrist said, "Honestly, I was expecting to bounce you out of the process because I said, this person's obviously crazy before I met you and she met me and I explained to her that it's really rooted in, you know, the liberal social Catholic teaching or the Jesuits who had been haunting me since college of that you live for others. That's the point and this was a manifestation of it and that's why I was there. There was no other mode of there's nothing else, I'm lucky enough to have a very supportive family and very supportive business partners and colleagues who were like, "Okay, you need to take some time off to do this. That's fine. So I woke up in the ICU and I was kind of hoping that the election would be over at that point." So basically, I sat there for four days watching CNN and MSNBC, while I was recovering and I was home by the Saturday when finally the election was called. So I made it home within four or five days.
Brett Barry 35:53
And have you been in touch with this four year old recipients?
Brian Flynn 35:55
So when it's completely anonymous like that, both parties have to agree to become not anonymous. And I said, "I'm fine if they knew who I am, if they're fine, vice versa." And they wanted to thank me and to show gratitude. And if they hadn't, that have been fine, too. And we actually made up, we imagined what we called him, Timmy, because we might never meet him. And so we just imagine what he was like and what the little boy was like, and we're like, we hope Timmy is gonna appreciate this liver. So they put you together, they connect you and they send like written letters. "This incredible family, and the little boy, Richie, he was at a central casting for this sweetest little boy who had a very rare liver disease that was fatal if they hadn't done it," and relatives have tried to get tested and they couldn't get anyone knows a match. "And they told me the story afterwards that all of a sudden they came to them and said, Okay, so there's this 51-year-old man who wants to anonymously donate. And they're like, What? A 51-year-old? Like, is it still work? Do livers work on people that old? I was like, I'm not that ... I mean, really? And there, I guess. So I then had a chance to meet them in person about two months later. When I left the hospital a few days later, I was just so grateful. It's interesting because the man of light thing didn't necessarily come back. Because they didn't use morphine. They use some other; they didn't use a narcotic for whatever reason they changed the protocols to maybe I didn't have quite as much delusion or whatever. But afterwards, I felt just fortunate.
Brett Barry 36:02
And your livers going to fully regenerate?
Brian Flynn 37:23
Yeah, it almost, it within the first three months, most of it, that's taken out rows back, and I had a test recently, and most of it has grown back, and they what they say is that sometimes it just stops based on what your needs are. So let's say they took out, you know, 30%, but I'm only 25% my comeback because that's all the body needs. It's amazing based on understand how the body knows to not continue growing or how to stop, but it seems to have worked. So I feel fine.
Brett Barry 37:48
But you like Margaret doesn't whine. So ...
Brian Flynn 37:50
Brett Barry 37:50
It needs to grow back ...
Brian Flynn 37:51
Full capacity. I like to think of it's a battle tested.
Brett Barry 37:58
And that didn't matter is in terms of donating it.
Brian Flynn 38:00
No, no. In order to donate your liver, you have to go through. As I said, "They're pretty serious; physical battery of tests." They call my health and it's when my kids call me completely unremarkable, which is to say like I wear medium everything. I'm the most average medium person into my health isn't great, but it's not horrible. I'm not in great shape, but I'm not in bad shape. I'm just medium, which in this case is a blessing and a gift and one of the things that also haunts me is that we asked our mothers to speak at our wedding and my mother chose to say to those who much is given much as expected at our wedding in front of hundreds of people whatever and use that as the kind of the basis of her talk or whatever. And that is in my case, I'd, you know, I don't have a lot of money. As you know from community theater, I don't have a lot of talent. I have a lot of enthusiasm. And I happen to have very boring, unremarkable health. And that's something that I could finally, when I learned afterwards, that as far as people know, there are only about 50 people who have ever done both. And usually what happens is somebody who's given a kidney, a relative needs a liver. So they then say, "Okay, I'm going to step up and do this." Far as they know, they don't know of anybody who anonymously said, "Okay, now I'm going to do a liver as well." That was reticent in the beginning to speak of it because my reasons for doing it were my own and I didn't post about it or talk about it or anything. It was only when New York Presbyterian asked if I would consider just talking more about it because they're trying to encourage more people to consider being living donors. As I said, "I did volunteer work, but it really has been this wonderful way of just giving your life some significance and giving yourself a sense of." Alright, I've done something for somebody else.
Brett Barry 38:00
Brian Flynn 39:40
Twice. Yes, there's one more that I'm looking into, but I think I might be doing it alone, which is you can donate a lobe of your lung. I have no support from family members to do the living lung donation. So I don't think that's going to happen, but I have looked into it, and I think I'm going to get shut down. But it really is, as Amy said, perhaps it's turning into a bit of an addiction or maybe I should just let it go a little.
Brett Barry 40:08
The rest of your organs are shaking.
Brian Flynn 40:13
I have signed up for bone marrow, which by the way that again, they don't rarely do they choose someone in their fifties for bone marrow, so that's probably not going to happen. But I am on the list and sent in my swab and everything. So we'll see.
Brett Barry 40:25
So organs and tissues aside. What's next, in general?
Brian Flynn 40:28
"So someone said to me, would you run for office again? I said no, I said, I scratched that itch." I actually learned that I wasn't great at it, I've got other ways that I can make a difference and be involved. So the organ donations, I've scratched that itch. "Now I'm just looking for the next itch to scratch and what I can do to make a difference and I haven't found it yet." But it has led me to be less haunted by the need to do the next thing and it's kind of nice to not worry about that. I happen to love my work and be very lucky to have it and very impassioned and engaged in building a business and working with people and creating jobs and flying around the country trying to solve problems and to build, you know, medical devices. So I like that. And I actually enjoy my kids. We actually learned during the pandemic and during a lot of the isolation we're doing. We actually like our kids and it's led to us become much, much closer and even me doing the donation, they ... they're much more proud of what I've done since running for Congress than I when ... I ... when I was running for Congress. I probably need to work on my humility. But in order to be a really good politician, you have to be solicitous and I'm not very good at that. It's a big part of it and some people it comes naturally. Their charisma and manifest itself that way and they're very good at bringing people in and making them a part of it, whatever. I found, I wasn't very good at that I'm much more of the angry activist who's like, you know, wants to charge the hill and solve the problem that way, rather than be someone that's going to, you know, collaborate and work together and do that. So I said, "Alright, so rather than try to morph myself into being a really sweet, nice person, I decided I'm just going to play to my strengths and ... and see what that brings to ... Who knows?"
Brett Barry 40:56
Well, you had me fooled all along. Sweet guy.
Brian Flynn 42:18
You know, it's funny.
Brett Barry 42:19
Child-sized liver for some reason, but ... so your porch is getting cold and we'll wrap this interview up, I just want to come around full circle here. We started with what brought you to the Catskills into this home. What keeps you here?
Brian Flynn 42:34
Oh, definitely the sense of belonging and a sense of community. For example, Amy is the chairperson of the local economic development foundation (The Hunter Foundation). She and the people there do great work in building a strong community here by kids just love the school. We love playing sports and we're just talking with somebody who works in the school about this great game we had last winter where the boys varsity had this big win upset win out in Edmundston and ... and that type of connection to community and being able to go into a restaurant here in town and not only know the owners, but know most of the people sitting. We're lucky to have that. I encourage you to now the way people's careers are you can work more remotely and do all that. I'm pretty excited that we have this place to continue the next journey and have a place that our kids can continue to come back and visit. I do hope they leave soon for a while and they're welcome to come back, but they should leave.
Brett Barry 43:25
Will appreciate it here a lot more when they come back?
Brian Flynn 43:27
Brett Barry 43:28
Thank you very much, Brian. It's great to see you again.
Brian Flynn 43:30
Thank you, Brett.
Brett Barry 43:30
Kaatscast is a production of Silver Hollow Audio. This episode was edited by our production intern (Skye Ruse). Please be sure to subscribe wherever podcasts are found and give us a rating to help other listeners find us. Until next time, you can find us on Instagram @kaatscast. I'm Brett Barry. Thanks for listening.