Ever since he was a child, Peter Gee has enjoyed taking items apart and putting them back together.
He did so as a mechanic in the Air Force in his early 20s, and then again when he opened his own business, Pete’s Full Service Storage, where he maintains, repairs and stores boats. But when Pete started suffering from gastrointestinal problems, he had to depend on the transplant surgeons in the UW Health Liver Transplant Program to do the fixing.
Peter, now 63, first began feeling sick about six years ago. His gastroenterologist spent a year trying to figure out what was wrong, finally diagnosing him with ascites—a buildup of fluid in the belly, often due to severe liver disease. Peter’s belly was becoming so big that he could barely breathe, and interventional radiologists at the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin, started draining the fluid every few months.
Peter had three lesions on his liver and needed a liver transplant, so his doctors put him on the transplant wait list at University Hospital, also in Madison. “Of course, the transplant list is long, and the number of livers available is short,” says Peter. “So, I ended up having to wait about two years before my name came up. During that time, I just kept on coming to the hospital to have my belly drained.”
Because he knew his wait would be long, Peter volunteered to be a standby liver recipient. That meant if there was a liver that was a match for him and someone else was ahead of him in line, he still would come to the hospital in case the surgery didn’t go through for the other patient. It was a long shot, but he figured it was worth the drive from his home in Rome, Wisconsin.
On August 17, 2020, he received a call that he was second in line for a liver. He traveled to University Hospital and waited, thinking he probably would need to go back home. But then a nurse came in and told him to get ready for surgery. It was finally his turn. “It was the most miraculous thing I have ever experienced in my lifetime,” he says. “The surgeon told me the liver looked like it was made for me.”
Peter stayed in the University Hospital intensive care unit for about a week, then spent the rest of his recovery in the veterans’ hospital. At both hospitals, he said, his care was fantastic. “I can’t say enough about all the people who cared for me,” he says. “I fell in love with all of them, and I think they fell in love with me, too.”
He is now back in Rome, cutting his own firewood and walking a couple miles every day. He has connected with his donor’s sister and learned that he was a man in his 50s who looked very much like Peter.
Peter now talks about his gift of life with anyone who will listen, including the customers at his store, where he’s been busy with the start of a new boating season. “My friends have all told me I look 1,000 percent better,” he says.