Madeline-Michelle Carthen was declared dead 16 years ago. The only problem? She's still alive.

In early 2007, Madeline-Michelle Carthen was preparing for an international internship in Ghana. 

Ahead of the exchange program, the Missouri woman applied for financial aid. But then, the financial aid office told her that her social security number was associated with a deceased person and that she would have to withdraw immediately.

She had been declared dead.

The problem was that she was very much alive.

"I said, 'What do you mean? I’m sitting right here. I’ve been at school [for] over a year and a half. How am I dead?'" she told NBC News.

Carthen, now 52, contacted the American Social Security Administration (SSA), who told her she was added to a death master file "in error".

Even so, she has never succeeded in bringing herself — on paper — back to life.

Once someone's social security number is listed as dead, their existence is also 'cancelled' from banking, Medicare and tax systems, which Carthen told NBC has been a "nightmare".

To this day, Carthen still doesn't know how her name got on the list — but an investigation from Missouri media KSDK-TV found up to 12,000 Americans are wrongfully marked dead each year. It could be down to something as simple as a worker typing in a wrong digit.

The administration said anyone who believed they'd been incorrectly listed as dead should visit their local Social Security office with identification.

Carthen did that and was issued with a 'death erroneous letter' to prove to creditors that she was still alive.

Image: Madeline-Michelle Carthen.


But it has not been much help, as over the past 16 years, Carthen said she has lost her voting rights, had her car repossessed, been fired from jobs and been unable to get a mortgage because of the error.

"Sometimes I can get a job and then within so many months, there's going to be a problem. So it's like I can get it and then it's yanked back from me. But I don't know when it's going to be yanked back," she said, saying HR departments are unable to process her payroll.

She has contacted four different US Presidents over the years. Only Donald Trump replied, but nothing changed.

She even filed a lawsuit in 2019, but it was dismissed after the government said it had sovereign immunity.

After years of fighting, Carthen had a short-lived win in 2021 when she was issued a new social security number. But even after that, and having legally changed her name from Madeline-Michelle Coburn to Madeline-Michelle Carthen, it caught up with her when her new number was associated with her old one.

"I just want direct answers, and I haven't been able to get that," she told NBC.

"I don't care if it takes 20 years," Carthen said. "I'm going to still do what I got to do to make this situation right, not just for myself but for others."

Feature image: NBC News.