Sandra Simmons had been living with excess fluid in her legs for years. The swelling caused issues with mobility – she had difficulty navigating the four steps to leave home or even putting on socks and shoes. It also led to frequent hospitalizations where she was given diuretics intravenously to reduce the swelling. It wasn’t until last year that she officially received the diagnosis of lymphedema. Sandra was recently referred to the newly created Lymphedema Clinic at Swedish Covenant Hospital to receive the care she needs to reduce the excess fluids and improve her quality of life.
According to the National Lymphedema Network, lymphedema is an abnormal collection of high-protein fluid just beneath the skin. This swelling, or edema, occurs most commonly in the arm or leg, but it also may occur in other parts of the body. The swelling associated with the condition affects the patient’s quality of life, making it difficult or impossible to drive, walk or even find properly fitting clothes.
The Lymphedema Clinic at Swedish Covenant Hospital began serving patients like Sandra in July 2017. In the two months since the program started, the clinic has treated 11 patients. Patients are seen two to four times per week. According to Juanita Robinson, staff nurse and Certified Lymphedema Therapist, while there is no cure for lymphedema, treatment can better manage the condition and help patients lead more productive lives.
“What I like is that patients have renewed hope,” Juanita said. “Patients say that they’ve never felt so good.”
The clinic is unique in that it fills a gap in service for patients with lymphedema. Prior to the opening of the specialized clinic, many patients would not have been able to receive treatment because insurance companies often refuse coverage if the patient does not have a lymphedema-related wound.
The clinic is made possible through the generosity of donations to Swedish Covenant Hospital. Funds supported training for the lymphedema therapist, Juanita, and patient treatment including manual lymphatic drainage, garments and pumps for patients, when needed.
In just two months, Juanita and Christina Wagener, Wound Care Center manager, have observed significant improvements in patients. Since the program has started, they have seen a patient’s calf circumference go down as much as 12 cm. It typically takes one month of treatment for improvements to be seen with the combination of massage, compression garments and a pump.
“Before and after each appointment, the nurse measures my legs and I’m always surprised at how much of a difference there is from the beginning of the program,” Sandra said.