Duke Parents Pitch In to Support COVID-19 Research

Steve and Lisa Eisenstein, P’19, P’22, are no strangers to supporting good causes—and not just by opening their wallets. They are active in various philanthropic organizations, including one that helps people rebuild homes after hurricanes and other natural disasters.

“Once or twice a year we find ourselves in someplace like Houston or Puerto Rico, picking up a hammer or a hoe and letting people tell us what we can do to help them get back on their feet,” says Steve. “We’re very fortunate to be in a position to do that, and we try to support whatever we can.”

The COVID-19 crisis doesn’t allow for much of that sort of hands-on pitching in, at least not while social distancing and other safety guidelines are in place.

Richard O'BrienBut when the extent of the pandemic became apparent, the Eisensteins were eager to help however they could. They contacted Rich O’Brien, the Disque D. Deane Distinguished Professor of Neurology and chair of the Department of Neurology at Duke University School of Medicine, and asked what they could do.

“Duke is an academic medical research institution, and Rich told us they’re doing a lot of work trying to develop a vaccine and other countermeasures against COVID,” says Steve. “Obviously that sparked. That was an easy call: We wanted to help.” 

Steve and Lisa promptly made a $25,000 donation to support Duke’s efforts to develop a vaccine and other countermeasures against COVID-19. Researchers at the Duke Human Vaccine Institute and other units are drawing on decades of work with deadly viruses such as HIV and Zika to try to crack the coronavirus’s secrets and create tools to disarm it.

The Eisensteins’ association with Duke began a number of years ago, when their long history of philanthropic involvement in Alzheimer’s disease research and care led them to O’Brien, whose clinical and research activities focus on Alzheimer’s. They have supported his work at Duke ever since.

Steve and Lisa, who live in Scarsdale, New York, have also developed another, even stronger, tie to the university: both of their children are Dukies. Their son, Jake, graduated in 2019, and their daughter, Hanna, is a rising junior political science major.

“When Jake was searching for a college, he settled on Duke, and then Hanna made the same choice,” Steve says. “Duke has more than met their expectations, and it’s been great for Lisa and me too. We like to be involved in the communities we’re a part of, so we joined the Parents Committee. That’s been wonderful.”

The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the family’s life, as it has for everyone, but they have adapted. Steve has been able to keep his private equity firm running, with its approximately 70 employees working remotely. Jake works full-time in finance, and he too has been able to continue by telecommuting.

Hanna, midway through her college career, has been perhaps the most affected. The pandemic nixed an eagerly anticipated semester abroad, and, like all students, she’s uncertain what the coming academic year will hold. In the meantime, she has secured a summer internship that she can do remotely.

“They don’t complain,” Steve says of Jake and Hanna. “They’re dealing with it very maturely, and I think in the long run they’ll learn some important life lessons. We all keep things in perspective, and they recognize that a lot of people have it much worse than we do. At the same time, I think it’s OK to acknowledge that, like almost everyone, they have sacrificed some things, and they’re allowed to feel like they’ve lost something.”

The family is fortunate to be together during this time, Steve says, and despite the disruption and uncertainty, the situation presents some unexpected lessons.

Thank you Duke

“It’s extraordinarily strange, and a little frightening, and certainly dystopian,” he says. “It’s a very strange time. You don’t worry that you’re missing out on anything, because nothing is happening. Each thing you do, you do more deeply and fully, as opposed to rushing from one thing to another and looking up to discover that it’s 10 o’clock at night and you’re not even sure what you did all day. It’s almost like everybody’s taking a little bit of a sabbatical from the usual routine.”


By Dave Hart

June 10, 2020

Duke is an academic medical research institution, and Rich told us they’re doing a lot of work trying to develop a vaccine and other countermeasures against COVID. We wanted to help.

Steve Eisenstein