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3 brothers, 2 transplants, a long wait for another heart: A family illustrates life-saving impact of organ donors

Pete, Rex and Dale are Quad Cities natives that are bonded beyond blood. Pete and Dale already had their life-saving heart transplants. Rex is on the waiting list.

MILAN, Illinois — Pete, Rex and Dale Petersen are brothers that have bonded beyond blood. Each, though given their diagnosis at a different time, was told by doctors that a heart transplant was their best chance at survival.

April is National Donate Life Month, and the month serves as a reminder to sign up to potentially save a life by becoming an organ donor.

Nearly 106,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for an organ transplant, and 17 people die each day while on the waitlist, according to the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration.

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Of the three Petersen brothers, two of them already received a heart transplant and one was placed on a waiting list earlier this month.

Pete, the eldest brother, got his heart transplant in 2001.

"When your heart function decreases (and) gets to a point where you're short on breath, you can't lay flat on your back and sleep because you can't breathe," he said. "It becomes a full-time job just trying to get through one day. I was glad to hear that (I would receive a transplant) because a cardiologist I had gone to earlier told me that I was going to die unless (I got) a heart transplant."

Pete waited on the transplant lists for a year but never gave up hope. 

"I am a positive person," he said. "I just made up in my mind I was not going to be pushing up grass and daisies from the bottom side at 52 years old."

Now, Pete is 73, and he said he is grateful for the 21 years he has lived since his transplant and for the opportunity to give moral support as Rex and Dale go through the same experience.

"The other thing it allowed me to do is be there for my wife during her 4-and-a-half year battle with cancer so she didn't have to go through that alone," he said.

In 2020, youngest brother Dale learned he too needed a heart transplant, and he said he couldn't believe it.

"I was going with the odds," Dale said. "I already had one brother that had a heart transplant 20 years ago. The chance of two brothers in the same family getting one ..."

But Dale did get his transplant 9 months after being put on the waiting list. Many people die waiting for their transplant, and it's a pain Dale knows all too well. A friend of his died after waiting three and a half years for a transplant of her own.

RELATED: Baby thriving after first-of-its-kind heart transplant

Now, the Petersen family is hoping and praying for a third heart. 

In April, middle brother Rex was placed on the transplant list, and he still awaits a match. 

"The doctor coming up saying '(I) gotta tell ya, I don't really know what your problem is ... but we have to do something,'" Rex said. "Because of (my family's experience), I knew that something would be a transplant."

The three brothers continue to act the way you would expect brothers to act. Pete and Dale nag Rex to make good decisions and remind him to listen to his doctors as he awaits his transplant.

Three brothers, two transplants and one long waiting list ahead, all with the same message: Become an organ donor and you could save up to eight lives and enhance over 75 more, according to the HRSA.

Sign up to become an organ donor by clicking/tapping here.