Attorney with cystic fibrosis finds common bond and fighting spirit in her disability.
While at the University of Texas School of Law Beth Sufian, Esq. developed her legal research skills and gained hands-on legal experience in its Children’s Rights Clinic. Her time with a large law firm—before starting her own firm—gave her experience in the area of litigation that now helps her advocate for the rights of children and adults with chronic illness. Yet before, during, and after these important experiences, Beth’s cystic fibrosis provided her with a valuable trait she could not have received anywhere else: a fighting spirit for her clients, many of whom also have cystic fibrosis.
At the age of nine, Beth was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease that causes a build up of mucus in the lungs and digestive system. There were no medications to treat the disease when Beth was young. However, thanks to the hard work of scientists and the national CF Foundation, the past 20 years has resulted in new medications to treat the disease. The treatments have greatly improved the lives of children and adults living with the disease and have allowed Beth to devote her time and effort toward helping people with CF and other serious illnesses. After practicing law for 4 years with a big firm and then a small firm, a doctor asked her to help another patient with cystic fibrosis obtain government benefits. That pro bono case eventually led her and her husband James to form their own firm, Sufian & Passamano, L.L.P. of Houston, Texas, that represents individuals with serious and chronic illness in insurance related matters, long term disability claims and Social Security claims. The firm also represents physicians, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies that provide services to those with chronic illness. Among her many accolades, Beth was rated as one of Texas’s top 40 lawyers under 40, deemed a local hero by Timemagazine, co-authored The Advocacy Manual: A Clinician’s Guide to the Legal Rights of People with Cystic Fibrosis and Representing ADA Plaintiffs, and has received numerous awards from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation including one of its highest honors the Chairman’s Award.
Beth uses both patience and resilience when representing her clients, approximately half of whom have cystic fibrosis. “I have empathy for my clients because I understand where they are coming from,” she stated. “I also need to be persistent when trying to obtain government benefits or insurance coverage. We do not want our clients to wait very long for the insurance coverage they need to obtain life saving treatment.” Beth recently testified before an FDA advisory panel about a new drug to treat cystic fibrosis. Beth told the panel that they had the power to make it easier for people with CF to breathe and that people with CF could not wait any longer for the new drug to be approved. The drug was approved by the FDA in early March 2010.
Fueling these traits is Beth’s fighting spirit. Beth’s clients identify with her and she is able to understand first hand the challenges they face due to their serious health conditions. Therefore, she makes sure to fight for her clients—those who have no one else to advocate for them. “Facing cystic fibrosis every day, has helped me develop the courage and the strength I need to tackle complex cases and hopefully make the lives of my clients better."