Fifteen years ago, after losing all four of his brothers to a rare heart disease, Ernie Balcueva underwent a heart transplant.

It saved his life.

Now, at age 45, the Sylvan Lake father of two needs another one.

Balcueva, a native of Saginaw, became ill earlier this year. Transplanted hearts only last so long, and Balcueva's body is rejecting his, his cousin and Saginaw Township resident Sarah Balcueva said.

For the last several months, Ernie Balcueva and his parents, Edgar and Mary Jane Balcueva, have been at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. That's where Ernie Balcueva must stay until he is matched to a heart donor, she said.

"This is his only option to continue on with his life," Sarah Balcueva said.

Ernie Balcueva, a father of two, has health insurance, but his family says it's not nearly enough to cover the cost of the transplant, recovery and other related expenses.

Sarah Balcueva said the situation is difficult for everyone, including her nephews Ernie Balcueva II, 16, and Randy Balcueva, 11.

"It's been hard on both of them. It's not an easy situation. They know their dad is really sick," she said.

"I just really look up to my cousin. When his boys call him and they're having a hard time, he's always really positive and strong for them."

Ernie Balcueva has battled heart complications since he was a child.

Cardiac apoptosis is a disease that causes the heart to go into an irregular rhythm that cannot be reversed. The condition eventually becomes fatal, Sarah Balcueva explained.

Ernie's brothers Eddie, Randy, Rick and Brad Balcueva all died of the disease before the age of 34. One of them died at age 12.

"The pathologist who discovered it could only find 10 known cases of it, and we were five of them," Ernie Balcueva said.

Many in the Saginaw community are familiar with the Balcueva family and its plight.

Ernie Balcueva's father and his uncle who shares his name both are doctors. His father, now retired, practiced in Saginaw for more than 40 years. His uncle Ernie Balcueva is an oncologist who has practiced in the Saginaw area for more than 35 years.

When the younger Ernie Balcueva needed his first heart transplant, family, friends and community members rallied around him in support.

To help get Ernie Balcueva through this ordeal, his family and friends are telling his story and asking the community once again for help.

A spaghetti dinner and silent auction are planned to raise money. The event takes place from Nov. 16 at the Hunger Solution Center in Saginaw.

Tickets are for sale at St. Stephen Parish Office in Saginaw and SS Peter & Paul Parish Office in Saginaw Township.

There is a suggested donation of $10 per person, or $5 for children 10 years old and younger.

Monetary donations can be made to "Have a Heart for Ernie 2" at United Financial Credit Union in Saginaw Township.

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