Reaching for the Stars: Dr. Peter Lee ‘89
Banner Photo Credit: Jodi Miller
Loyola High School’s efforts to care for the whole person cura personalis often bear fruit only years after our students graduate from the school. This particular mission of Jesuit education is for students to develop many interests and skills and to see themselves as people with diverse interests and passions. The school’s hope is that graduates will “reach for the stars” - a notion alumnus Dr. Peter H.U. Lee ‘89 took to heart.
Born in Germany to a Korean family, Dr. Lee MD ’05 ’PhD ’15, grew up in Montreal’s Snowdon neighbourhood. While attending Loyola High School was a natural choice due to his Catholic upbringing, it also played a pivotal role in providing him with a solid foundation for building his stellar career.
Dr. Lee’s passion for space exploration led him to apply to two prestigious American preparatory schools, Phillips Exeter Academy and Phillips Academy (Andover), both of which admitted him. Remarkably, in the same year, three other Loyola High School students were also accepted to Andover. Choosing Andover, alongside two fellow Loyola students, laid the groundwork for remarkable growth opportunities.
Dr. Lee’s academic journey continued with his acceptance into the distinctive Program in Liberal Medical Education (PLME) at Brown University in Rhode Island, which merged an undergraduate education with guaranteed admission into its medical school. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience, a medical degree, and a doctorate in Pathobiology at Brown.
Before embarking on his medical studies, he spent a transformative year in France, where he earned a Master’s degree in Space Studies from the International Space University. Upon his return to Brown, he achieved the rare honour of having an experiment selected for John Glenn’s space shuttle mission in 1998 studying the effects of spaceflight on genetically modified tissue-engineered skeletal muscle.
Dr. Lee’s commitment to being a lifelong learner has never waned. Fueled by his early fascination with surgery during medical school, Dr. Lee embarked on an extensive educational journey. He pursued a Master of Public Health at Harvard University and furthered his learning through general surgery training at Tufts University, a cardiothoracic surgery fellowship at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and a year at Stanford University focusing on heart and lung transplantation.
At the age of 41, Dr. Lee began his first job at The Ohio State University (OSU), where he performed heart and lung transplants while simultaneously managing his own lab, funded by The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In addition to research and surgery, Lee also served many national leadership roles, including on the Executive Council of the Aerospace Medical Association and the Governing Board of the American Society for Gravitational and Space Research. His contributions extended to conducting four experiments that were sent to the International Space Station. Dr. Lee also served as the medical officer for a one-month Mars simulation mission on Devon Island in the Canadian arctic and he was a finalist for the Canadian astronaut program in 2016.
His skill set goes beyond the realms of medicine and aerospace research. In 2014 he joined the U.S. Air National Guard where he is a Lieutenant Colonel and serves as a general surgeon as part of a Ground Surgical Team and a flight surgeon. Dr. Lee is also an Aviation Medical Examiner and special consultant for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Dr. Lee embodies Loyola’s core principle of cura personalis through his lifelong commitment to learning and exploration. Over two decades ago, he obtained a 7th degree grandmaster rank in Taekwondo, a private pilot’s license, and added a Master SCUBA diver certification to his ever-growing list of accomplishments. For Dr. Lee, acquiring new skills has always been “a way to learn more about yourself and allows you to try to push your boundaries”. He emphasizes the importance of “continuous medical education, acknowledging that staying updated with current knowledge and techniques is essential for providing the best care to patients.”
Reflecting on his career, Dr. Lee deeply embraced Loyola’s motto of forming “men and women for others”. As an educator and mentor, he leveraged the values instilled at Loyola to better serve others and contribute to their well-being. He found fulfillment in guiding students towards achieving their dreams and took pride in their achievements, often stating, “It’s a proud moment when they do even better than you.” This materialized when one of his mentees, Jessica Meir, paid tribute to his mentorship when she became a NASA astronaut.
Dr. Lee has received numerous awards, but the one that holds the most significance for him is the Early Achievement Award presented by the Brown Medical School Alumni Association. This accolade acknowledges exceptional contributions made by a medical alumnus during the early stages of their career. He is also a Knight in two prestigious royal orders, being a Grand Cross Knight in the Royal Equestrian and Military Order of Saint Michael of the Wing, a Portuguese Roman Catholic dynastic order, and a Knight Commander in the Order of Prince Danilo I.
As Dr. Lee stands at the forefront of medical advancements and aerospace exploration, he reminds us that the pursuit of knowledge knows no bounds. He has always followed his heart in exploring his diverse interests, no matter how far-reaching they may seem, and this has helped shape him as a prominent leader in the fields of medicine, space and aviation. He hopes to venture into space someday - a feat that is well within his reach.
Originally published in the Summer/Fall 2023 edition of the Loyola Today.