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McClellan: Woman's disability not evident to judge

McClellan: Woman's disability not evident to judge

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Marcella Myer, who is 52, was a clumsy child. Not that she remembers it that way. She shook her head when I asked if she ever felt there was something wrong with her. But her mother remembers. "She used to fall in the middle of the floor," said Delorse Knehans.

Delorse did not pay much attention to her daughter's occasional falls. She was more concerned with her son, William, who was, and is, a deaf mute. He did well for himself. He married and had a family, and he recently retired after a career as an upholsterer. His daughter, Lisa Volner, who has a family of her own, is pretty much responsible for Marcella and Delorse these days.

Both are at the Woodland Manor Nursing Center, a nursing home in Arnold. Delorse, who is 85, moved to the nursing home in June of last year. She and Marcella were renting a second-story condominium. Caring for her mother got to be too much for Marcella, whose own health was slipping. So Delorse moved into the nursing home.

In July of this year, on Delorse's birthday, Marcella and Lisa decided to take her out to dinner. On the way to the nursing home, they stopped at a grocery store to buy flowers. Marcella fell. She ended up in a hospital.

After four days, the hospital decided she should go to a nursing home to recover. She decided to go to Woodland Manor to be with her mother. She has been there ever since.

She has lived with her mother her entire life. She never married. After graduating from Lutheran South High School, she worked at a gas station and then in nursing homes. Then she got a job in the warehouse at Famous-Barr, which, of course, became Macy's. She lost that job in 2008. She told me she just couldn't keep up anymore.

By that time, Lisa had noticed her aunt's condition deteriorating. Her gait was becoming increasingly unsteady. Her speech was slurred. She has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Lisa suggested she apply for Social Security disability. "You just can't work any more," she said.

Marcella applied for disability. She was turned down. She had a hearing on that denial in March of this year.

Attorney Jeffrey Swaney was at the Social Security office representing another client when Marcella's case was called.

"I was sitting in the waiting room when they called her. I knew it was an appeal, and I remember thinking, 'How could this woman have been denied?' You could see she was profoundly disabled," he said.

Later that afternoon, Swaney got a phone call from Lisa. She had seen his ad in the Yellow Pages about Social Security disability claims.

"She said her aunt had just had an appeal and had been denied and she started describing it, and I said, 'I was sitting right behind you.'"

So Swaney took the case. He said the problem was a lack of medical documentation.

Incidentally, by this time, Marcella had suffered a series of strokes. She had difficulty speaking. She had to use a cane to walk.

A hearing was scheduled for August.

By then, Marcella was in the nursing home. A doctor from the nursing home wrote that she would never be able to return to the second-story condominium. Lisa and Marcella felt confident that Marcella would finally be approved for disability.

The administrative law judge declared there was not enough information upon which to base a decision. He gave Swaney 30 days to gather more information.

Swaney told me he sent in the additional information this past week. He said he felt optimistic.

I visited Marcella on Friday. Because her speech is slurred, Lisa was there to help interpret for me. Marcella said she has gone through her entire savings since she last worked two years ago. After she exhausted her savings, she began living on a credit card. She is about maxed out, she said.

Although Medicaid is paying the nursing home bill, Marcella still has expenses in the outside world. Mainly, rent and utilities. She will not have those much longer. She has given up hope of returning to her condo and has given her 30-day notice.

Still, her plans are vague. Except she definitely wants to get out of the nursing home. That is not a slight on the nursing home, but a reflection of Marcella's age. The residents I saw seemed to be contemporaries of her mother.

When I got back to the newspaper, I called Swaney. I said I was surprised the judge needed more medical records. Marcella clearly seemed disabled to me, I said.

"If she's faking it," he said, 'she should be an Academy Award-winning actress."

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