Man with family history of heart condition undergoes 2nd heart transplant

Ernie Balcueva hopes to return to Michigan after rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic

A Michigan man who watched his four brothers die from the same heart condition is hoping a second heart transplant will save his life.

Ernie Balcueva had his first heart transplant 15 years ago, when it was discovered that he was suffering from a condition that causes the heart to go into an irregular rhythm that can't be reversed, and eventually becomes fatal.

"Heart disease has had such a devastating effect on his family," said Dr. Brooks Edwards, director of the Mayo Clinic's transplant center.

Balcueva has been undergoing treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota since his heart started showing signs of giving out.

After years of living with his first transplanted heart, he was told last year that he would need another one. He waited eight months before the call came on Dec. 9 that a heart was available.

Balcueva's second heart transplant was performed by many of the same medical staff that was there during his first transplant. It took six hours, but it Balcueva came out of it with a new heart.

For the past two months, he's been working on building his strength.

"It's been a little bit slower getting up and getting going this time around. But I feel a lot stronger than I did even a week ago," Balcueva said. "I feel like I'm starting to climb up the hill again, instead of rolling down the back side of it."

He will stay at the Mayo Clinic for the duration of his rehabilitation. His medical and team and his positive attitude will help him heal.

"I don't look at it like I have the worst set of circumstances of anybody. I really don't," Balcueva said.  "I really just look at it like this is my life."

He hopes to return to Michigan this spring.

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