LAKE LEELANAU — Three heart surgeries left Gene Peyerk appreciative of the most important parts of his life:
Time with his wife, Joan, his children, Geno and Kaylin, and working on his small business, Leelanau Pie & Pastry.
But Peyerk’s latest heart surgery in May 2013 also drove home the realization his family, young employees and customers at the Lake Leelanau business care so much about him that they wouldn’t let the family business fail, despite Peyerk’s medical difficulties.
His children and employees came together to keep the business running during his lengthy absence, which included an operation and recovery.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Peyerk said. “I don’t know if we would have lost the business, but I would have been in a lot more debt.”
Peyerk, 49, has a history of heart problems in his family. His father died at 42 of a massive heart attack. A physical examination of Peyerk at 35 found heart problems of his own.
“They found some swooshing going on in there,” Peyerk said. “So I went and had an ultrasound on my heart and they found my valve was leaking pretty bad, so I had it replaced.”
Doctors used a valve from a pig’s heart to replace Peyerk’s aortic valve during his first surgery. An infection in 2002 led to another valve replacement in 2003. In May 2013 there was a third surgery, to replace a failing valve with a valve from a cow’s heart.
The surgery downstate meant Leelanau Pie & Pastry was without its leader, prompting Geno and Kaylin to join fellow employees Grace and Mike Hubbell and Mike Sawyer to take over the dough, pie and pastry production. Joan Peyerk also took a leadership role.
The young adults came in at 4 or 5 a.m. to get the dough just right, then make pies and pastries all day.