Frank Buckalew and his grandson Connor

Frank Buckalew and his grandson Connor

“I can play in the yard with my grandkid"

Thanks to the care from the Spartanburg Regional Heart Center and the generosity of Spartanburg Regional Foundation donors, 6-year-old Conner Merchant gets to enjoy one of his favorite activities – playing baseball with his “Poppy.”

That’s Frank Buckalew, who endured two heart surgeries and, with support from the Foundation’s David Ike Patient Assistance Fund, is gaining strength at the Spartanburg Heart Wellness Center.

“I enjoy the cardiac rehab program,” Frank said. “Everyone at the Heart Wellness Center really cares – they want to see you make progress. And it has built me up to the point that I can play out in the yard with my grandkid. That was important to me.”

In 2013, Frank suffered a damaged ascending aorta. He was in “excruciating pain” leading up to major surgery to replace the valve with a stent.

He was able to return to work and resume a normal life – until 2017, when an infection set in, threatening his life. Frank’s condition deteriorated. He lost nearly 40 pounds.

 “I was just lounging around, waiting to die,” he said.

Doctors discovered the infection, and he was told that his aortic stent would have to be replaced.

“Within two to three days, he was like a new person,” said Frank’s wife Kay. She credits Dr. Steve Leyland with “saving his life.”

The Ike Fund, named in honor of Spartanburg Regional cardiologist David Ike, MD, helps patients with the cost of extended cardiac rehab. Frank visits the Heart Wellness Center three times each week and continues to feel stronger.

He and Kay are grateful for those who have supported the Ike Fund and hope that his story of recovery will inspire others.

“If his story could touch even just one person and make their life better, then I would be happy,” Kay said.

Learn more about how to donate to the Spartanburg Regional Foundation heart funds