After heart condition claims 4 siblings, man needs 2nd heart transplant

DETROIT – Ernie Balcueva watched his four brothers die without warning from the same heart condition.

The condition causes the heart to go into an irregular rhythm that can't be reversed, and eventually becomes fatal.

He was also struck with the condition, but got his first chance at new life with a heart transplant in 1999 at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. But he's facing trouble again.

Balcueva, who is from Michigan, is back at the clinic, confined to a hospital bed.

"His transplanted heart, which is 15 years old, is not working adequately for him. It's time to re-transplant him. We need to find a donor who is a good match for Ernie," said Dr. Brooks Edwards, director of the Mayo Clinic's transplant center.

Balcueva said he keeps things in perspective by meeting other transplant patients who share their hope.

"We've kind of developed a bond there. We all kind of stick together and talk about our challenges," he said.

Local 4 first shared Balcueva's story when he underwent his first heart transplant. He spent weeks rebuilding his strength at the clinic, but eventually returned to Michigan and his career. He has two sons who don't appear to suffer from the same condition. But something changed.

"I usually go for a bike ride after work and I wasn't able to even get off the couch. I knew there was an issue there but I wasn't quite sure what it was," Balcueva said.

He was told he needed another transplant.

"I had a really good 15 years with that heart. So if I was going to get another one, I was going to end up at the right place and everything would be taken care of eventually," Balcueva said. "I was just hoping I didn't have to go through all that."

His constant smile and outlook is what sets him apart from other patients.

"He is unique in the fact that heart disease has had such a devastating effect on his family, and despite that, Ernie is this positive, can-do, outgoing individual who really is a joy to be around," Edwards said.

An online fund has been set up for Balcueva's medical expenses. To donate, click here.