A Sylvan Lake man learned what it means to be a survivor after a childhood filled with tragedy.
When you glance at this grainy 1970s snapshot, it’s hard to believe that four of the family's five sons are no longer alive.
"Even to this day I stop and wonder what would they have done," said Ernie Balcuevo.
Balcuevo has countless family photos that easily take him back to when his life was filled with smiles and siblings.
It started to unravel in 1974 when his big brother Eddie never came home from school.
He was 12 he was playing on the playground and he collapsed and died. Then a few years after that my brother Randy was playing soccer, he collapsed on the field.
Ernie’s dad, a doctor, performed CPR and Randy survived for the moment. But now, there was concern for all the boys and medical testing reveals a hidden truth.
"All five of us had some rare disease that manifested itself at puberty," he said. "Unless there was a defibrillator nearby. In the 70s there weren't too many of those.
"You would collapse or die from sudden cardiac death."
Ernie and his surviving brothers get implanted defibrillators to shock their hearts back into rhythm and prevent cardiac arrest. But in the 80s Randy collapses again and dies.
Then Brad, the youngest of the boys is doing homework, when his heart stops. Years later, Rick suffers the same fate.
"It's devastating," Ernie said.
Growing up, Ernie mourns the loss of his brothers and the loss of his childhood. He can't play sports and wonders if he too will die.
"I was angry, I was depressed a lot," he said.
Ernie pours his passion into music, and his adopted sister brings new joy to the family. Doctors eventually realize the only thing that will keep Ernie alive is a new heart, he had his first heart transplant in 1999 which lasted 15 years, and now he's on his second.
Ernie, 46, has two sons of his own. Both have healthy hearts and doctors at the Mayo clinic are still trying to unravel the mystery of the genetic mutation among Ernie and his brothers.
He takes about 30 pills a day to protect his donated heart as Ernie cherishes the gift that gave him the chance his brothers never had.
"It's the greatest gift you can be given by someone," he said. "You can never thank them."
Ernie's band is throwing a fundraiser to help with his medical bills.
It's happening from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at Norm's Field of Dreams on Rochester Road in Troy, featuring food, beer and local bands.
To find out more go to: Facebook.com/HaveaHeartforErnie