Heart transplant waiting list war hero who is always '15 seconds from death' has benefits stopped because he is not disabled enough Alex Smith suffered heart failure but has been told he is fit to workHe claims he becomes seriously exhausted by even the smallest effortsIf his life-saving device breaks he has just 15 seconds to live
17:22 GMT, 13 December 2012
A Gulf War hero who needs a heart transplant and is always '15 seconds from death' has seen his benefits stopped – because he is not disabled enough.
Devastated Alex Smith, 37, suffered heart failure after developing a serious chest infection in December 2010.
The former RAF dog handler, who served in the second Gulf War, was fitted with a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD) which pumps blood around his body while he waits for a heart transplant.
Support: Former RAF Police dog handler, Alex Smith, 37, developed heart failure two years ago and is kept alive by a machine, yet benefits staff have told him he's fit to work
'15 seconds from death': Alex with his LVAD machine. If it fails, he will soon die
The machine connects a pump to his heart which is attached to a battery he carries around with him 24 hours a day.
If the machine fails or becomes disconnected from the battery Alex has just 15 seconds before his heart stops beating.
Despite becoming exhausted after walking a few yards he had his Employment Support Allowance (ESA) of 420-a-month axed after Department of Work and Pensions officials ruled he could get a job.
Bizarrely, Alex, who left the RAF in 2008 to work for the probation service helping reformed criminals, still qualifies for the highest rate of disability allowance of 520-a-month.
Tired: Even walking his dog Tank is an exhausting ordeal for Alex
Divorced Alex, who has two sons, Luke, 12, and eight-year-old Dalton who live with his ex-wife, said: 'I feel like my integrity and honesty is being questioned.
'I did not want to claim benefits anyway but I did so out of necessity.
'If my machine was to fail I would pass out within 15 seconds and I would die quite quickly.
'I am 15 seconds away from death at any time.
'My life ended when my heart failed – this machine allows me to exist but not to live.
He added: 'The fight will just start again if I get a transplant – you are on drugs for the rest of your life.
'I wish for a transplant but that is just the next fight starting.
'Going out to work physically drains me. After a day's work, I need to rest up completely for three days. I'm a physical wreck.'
Alex, who lives in a rented house in Lincoln with fiance Elaine, 29, a teacher at a school for pupils with behavioural problems, had his benefits stopped following a physical assessment in Lincoln on October 24.
He said: 'I had a call from the DWP on October 23 asking me to come for an assessment the next day which I had no problem with, I've never had anything to hide.
'But when I got to the assessment centre the officials said that because I had walked unaided into the centre that I was fit to work.
'I explained about my heart failure and even showed them the LVAD machine. The woman asked me what it did and I simply said “If it stops I'm dead”.
'I get very tired very easily and it hurts me to accept that I am unable to work because of my condition.
Lifesaver: The LVAD machine pumps blood around Alex's body as his heart failed in 2010
He added: 'The report said it was not accepted that I had limited capability to work.
'I have not been able to pay for my kids since I have been ill, my partner is having to financially support us both.
'I tried going back to work this year for 16 hours a week but it was too much strain.
'I see my kids for one night every two weeks and then I am exhausted.
'I love taking my dogs for walks, but I can't take them very far before I am out of energy. My machine pumps my blood around the body at a constant speed.
'When I do anything that would usually increase my heart rate the machine continues at the same speed.
'That is why I tire so quickly and remain exhausted for days after any physical activity.'
Operation: The war hero is waiting for a heart transplant, but even then he faces a long road to recovery
Eight years ago Alex was diagnosed with an irregular heart beat but after a virus in 2010, his condition worsened and he almost died when his heart failed completely.
He is now kept alive by a machine woven through his ribs to a pump in his heart which keeps his blood flowing at a constant speed.
He added: 'My heart failed and I was in intensive care for 16 weeks and died several times – they opened me up 11 times.
'I went into hospital as a 20 stone muscular man and I lost 70 per cent of my muscle and about nine stone.
'I even had to learn to walk again. But yet I am still told I am not disabled enough to work.'
A DWP spokesperson said: 'Employment and Support Allowance assesses someone's capacity for work and looks at what a person can do because we know conditions affect different people in different ways.
'A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough face-to-face assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant.
'We have made considerable improvements to the Work Capability Assessment to make it fairer and more effective.
'If someone disagrees with the outcome of their claim, they have the right to submit new evidence and appeal.'