Ernie Balcueva: It's a great gift I was given 15 years ago.

Dennis Douda: Ernie Balcueva considers himself a very lucky man. The gift he refers to was a heart transplant at Mayo Clinic.

This is what Ernie's heart looked like back then. He inherited a rare condition, called noncompaction cardiomyopaty, that prevents heart muscle from developing normally.

Even more rare is that all 4 of Ernie's brother's developed it too, and it claimed all of their lives. Eddie and Brad died as children, less than 2 years apart. Randy and Rick died as young men.

Brooks Edwards, M.D. — Mayo Clinic Cardiologist: Ernie's case is indeed dramatic, with 5 boys and all 5 of them affected by heart disease.

Dennis Douda: Cardiologist Dr. Brooks Edwards is director of Mayo Clinic's Transplant Program. He says, unfortunately, images of the transplanted heart that saved Ernie's life, now show that it is failing as well. Ernie's struggling with extreme fatigue, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeats.

Brooks Edwards, M.D.: The symptoms Ernie described are symptoms of congestive heart failure and they are characterized by an inability of the heart to deliver adequate blood to the tissues.

Ernie Balcueva: Usually I go for a bike ride after work and I couldn't even get off the couch. So I knew there was an issue there. I wasn't quite sure what it was.

Dennis Douda: Bottom line, Ernie is now back at Mayo Clinic in need of a second gift. Dr. Edwards says he has a lot of company, with over 125,000 Americans on the waiting list for vital organs.

Brooks Edwards, M.D.: So an organ donor may be able to save a number of lives by donating heart, lung, liver, kidneys, even tissues.

Ernie Balcueva: Wouldn't be here without it.

Dennis Douda: For the Mayo Clinic News Network, I'm Dennis Douda.

Dec. 19, 2014