DIEGO SALCIDO

A transplant surgery is only as successful as the recovery that follows. In his five short years of life, Diego Salcido had faced the enormous hardship of childhood cancer. After being diagnosed with leukemia in January, 2015 he received a bone marrow transplant, which failed. By August, he had received and was responding positively to a second transplant.

Yet, despite the surgical success, Diego could not return home. Like many other hardworking, yet low-income families, Diego’s family was forced to deal with substandard housing. Although the Salcido’s home was neat and tidy, it was infested with cockroaches and bedbugs, making a healthy recovery impossible for Diego’s compromised immune system.

Legal Aid of Nebraska through their Medical-Legal Partnership Project (MLPP) went to bat for Diego’s family, helping them work to get out of their lease, get back their deposit, find better housing and obtain furniture necessary for Diego’s health and recovery.

“TOM”

A left ventricular assist device (LVAD) can mean the difference between life and death for a patient on an organ transplant list. It’s a temporary device that helps a patient’s weakened heart pump blood while he or she waits for a new heart.

“Tom” was on the waitlist for a heart transplant, and his LVAD was keeping him alive. Both Tom’s father and brother had died young because of a genetic heart disorder, and Tom, only in his forties, was facing a similar end. Unable to work on account of his condition, Tom applied for Social Security Disability Income (SSDI). He had worked his whole life and counted on this money to help him get through this difficult period. So, Tom was surprised when he was turned down.

Legal Aid heard from Tom after he had been denied disability benefits. He found out that he’d have to wait two to three years for a hearing about the decision. But Tom didn’t have two to three years to wait. The Social Security Administration (SSA) determined that, despite the LVAD, Tom could work because he could walk. Legal Aid attorney Ann Mangiameli reached out to those who had made the determination to deny Tom’s benefits, to explain his situation and what an LVAD is.

Legal Aid’s advocacy resulted in the SSA reconsidering their decision to deny Tom benefits. After reviewing the case, the SSA granted Tom disability benefits. Tom’s case prompted a review of national LVAD policy in the SSA’s Program Operations Manual System (POMS), which is used in the evaluation of disability cases.

The LVAD policy was revised.

The outcome of this case resulted in a national policy change, effectively making it easier for patients with this device to get their benefits quickly. The sooner someone is qualified for these benefits, the sooner they can receive income security and better access to healthcare. At over six feet tall, Tom had needed a very large heart. Though the chances of finding a heart that size were small, we are happy to share that Tom underwent his transplant in early 2015 and is doing great.

NYADENG W.

A decade ago, Sudanese refugee Nyadeng W. came to America with her husband. When Nyadeng discovered that he had a girlfriend on the side, she ended their relationship. Her husband did not abide well with this.

“I want to kill you. I want to shoot you,” he threatened Nyadeng. He also wanted custody of their one-year-old child.

Circumstances forced Nyadeng to live in Seattle, and her husband lived in Omaha with their son. Because Nyadeng was living out-of-state, the court granted custody to the father. Ten years later, with only occasional correspondence and no visits, Nyadeng returned to Nebraska and sought to end the separation from her child. At her cousin’s suggestion – a former client of Legal Aid – Nyadeng contacted Legal Aid of Nebraska for assistance.

Finding it difficult to adapt to life in the United States, Nyadeng’s husband moved back to his native country in Africa. He left the child in the care of the paternal grandparents but retained custody himself. With the father unavailable to care for the child and not expected to return from Africa, and the grandparents lacking the rights to guardianship and unwilling to return the boy to his mother, Nyadeng pursued a change of custody.

Attorney Elaine D’Amato assisted Nyadeng in retrieving her parental rights. Despite a slight difficulty in communication – Nyadeng’s native language is Nuer, but she also speaks English – Elaine was impressed with Nyadeng’s presence. “She was very nice, very cooperative, very grateful, appreciative, kind,” Elaine says of her experience working with Nyadeng. “We enjoy working with people from other cultures,” she adds. Legal Aid of Nebraska offers its services at homeless shelters and ethnic centers for the legal needs of refugees. Over the past six years, it has represented many refugees through the International Center of the Heartland.

The day before the final hearing, the grandparents returned the boy to his mother. Sole physical and legal custody was granted to Nyadeng. Speaking of Legal Aid’s service, Nyadeng acclaims, “It saved my life. We had no money, but it took care of both my own and my son’s lives. It really saved my life.”