Lung Transplant and Social Security Disability

Lung Transplant – Condition and Symptoms

Due to monumental advances in medical technology, operations that were considered to be impossible less than a generation ago are now considered relatively commonplace. Such is the case with pulmonary transplantation surgery, more commonly known as lung transplant.

The first human lung transplant was performed in 1963, but the patient only survived for 18 days after the operation. Despite repeated attempts, problems with rejection of the new lungs and with healing where the donor’s and recipient’s air passageways (or bronchi) connected inhibited the success of the surgeries.

However, the later advent of the heart-lung machine, as well as the development of more sophisticated anti-rejection medications has made a lung transplant a viable and comparatively commonplace operation. The first single lung transplant with long-term success was performed in 1986.

Lung transplants are performed when a person’s lungs are diseased or otherwise failing and all other treatment options have been exhausted. Usually, donor lungs are removed from a patient who is clinically brain-dead, but is kept on life support while preparations to transplant their remaining healthy organs are made.

As alluded to earlier, one or both lungs may be transplanted, depending on the nature of the recipient’s lung disease. For example, the bacteria present in the lungs of a cystic fibrosis patient would necessitate the transplanting of both lungs, since the bacteria in the diseased lung could potentially migrate to the transplanted lung. Some of the conditions that may necessitate a lung transplant are:

  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (Idiopathic means the cause is unknown)
  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (or COPD), including emphysema
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Hypertension (Increased blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries)
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Sarcoidosis

Additionally, portions of a lung may be removed from 2 live donors in order to construct a single healthy lung for the recipient. The donors are able to lead normal lives in spite of the reduction of lung capacity.

In spite of immense medical and technological advances, there are still significant risks associated with lung transplant surgery. The biggest is rejection, where the recipient’s immune system recognizes the new lungs as foreign bodies and attacks them.

As a result, recipients are given medication to aggressively suppress their immune system. These medications make the recipient highly susceptible to infection.

Lung Transplant and Social Security Disability

Filing for Social Security Disability with a Lung Transplant Diagnosis

Lung transplant is included in the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) impairment listing manual (more commonly known as the “Blue Book”) as a condition that can qualify the patient to receive Social Security Disability benefits.

Unlike most other conditions, no qualifying criteria are present; the assumption can be made that anyone whose health is compromised to the point that a lung transplant is necessary is already presumed to be disabled and unable to work.

The Blue Book does state that one is to be considered disabled for 12 months following the date of surgery, with the patient to be monitored and evaluated for any lasting disabilities.

In simple terms, this means that anyone who has had lung transplant surgery will be approved for a minimum of one year of disability benefits and possibly more if their medical condition warrants it.

Typically, patients are not allowed to drive for a period of at least 3 months after surgery until their ability to move enough to perform the actions necessary to drive (looking at blind spots, for example) can be evaluated.

Because some nerves in the lungs are severed during the surgery, the recipient may not be able to sense the need to cough, resulting in the accumulation of fluids in the lungs. This coupled with the lifelong use of strong immunosuppressant medication in order to prevent rejection means that the patient will continue to be highly susceptible to lung infections.

While these infections would likely be routine for someone with a healthy immune system, they are potentially life-threatening to a patient who is taking these medications.

Your Disability Case after a Lung Transplant

If you are a recipient of a lung transplant, you are very likely entitled to receive Social Security Disability benefits. While the Blue Book’s wording appears to make approval of benefits for this condition a certainty, you would undoubtedly benefit from a consultation with a qualified Social Security Disability attorney.

Approximately 30 percent of Social Security Disability claims are approved when the applications are first submitted. The remaining applicants have little choice but to enter the appeal process, which can cause the case to drag on for months, possibly even years.

A case that would otherwise qualify for disability benefits may be denied simply due to errors or omissions in the application and the accompanying paperwork. An experienced Social Security Disability lawyer will have the expertise to help you to avoid the headaches and frustration of having your disability case denied for these procedural reasons.

If you or someone you love has had a lung transplant, you don’t need the stress associated with an agonizing appeal process. Have your case evaluated by a Social Security Disability attorney to improve the possibility that your case will be successful the first time. 

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