Melissa's Story

Published April 2014

The Faces and Facts of Disability / Stories / Melissa's Story

When she received a letter in the mail telling her that she qualified for Social Security disability benefits, Melissa breathed a deep sigh of relief.

By that time, she had gone through three surgeries to ease pressure from tumors on her spinal cord. What began as a simple doctor visit for leg pain would lead to a diagnosis of central nervous system sarcoidosis and paralysis from the waist down. Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that can affect many areas of the body.  For an unfortunate 5 to 15 percent of patients, like Melissa, it involves the central nervous system - making it a severe and sometimes lethal condition.

Melissa depended on the income from her federal job to raise her 2-year-old daughter. "I pushed myself to work because I had to take care of my daughter," she explains.  "I was a single mom." Yet she realized that driving herself too hard could hasten her decline and make matters even worse. Eventually, she had no choice but to stop working.

While in the hospital, she decided to apply for Social Security benefits. She and her daughter lived with her mother to save money. They received some public assistance, but it was not enough to make ends meet.  Melissa worried for her daughter and feared they would never be able to live on their own.

The letter from Social Security changed all that.

Her monthly Social Security check now makes it possible for Melissa to keep up with her basic needs, such as rent for an accessible apartment, while managing her health.  She reports that Social Security made "a big difference" by allowing her to feel more independent.  "It afforded me the ability to pay my rent, to take care of my child, to pay my car note, and to live a somewhat normal life."

Melissa was nervous about applying for benefits because her job had involved Social Security disability claims, and she had seen many people denied. At the same time, she understood that her condition meets our strict definition of disability, and she had run out of other options.

Today, she is glad she put aside her fears and decided to apply. For Melissa and her daughter, she believes Social Security is making a necessary difference.