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Controlling Lymphedema with bypass surgery

Lymphedema is a condition where fluid gets trapped in an arm or leg and causes swelling. Now, surgeons have better options for some patients.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Lymphedema is a condition where fluid gets trapped in an arm or leg and causes swelling – most often after cancer surgery to remove lymph nodes. Until recently, patients were told there was nothing they could do, except wear a compression sleeve to control the swelling. Now, surgeons have better options for some patients.

Pandora Porcase has been a musician for 60 years. 

“I can make a pipe organ sound awesome,” she boasted.  

But 35 years ago, Porcase was diagnosed with cancer in her left breast, and it had spread. 

“I had 33 nodes that were positive," she recalled.

Doctors treated the cancer and removed the cancerous nodes. Months later, Porcase’s arm started to swell – a condition called lymphedema. 

“I saw the growth in my hand, my wrist, in my forearm,” she said. She still wears a glove and compression sleeve to control the swelling.

But in 2014, doctors diagnosed her with cancer in her right breast. This time, when the swelling started again, her plastic surgeon had a plan. 

“We actually transplanted lymph nodes from one part of her body into two different areas of her upper extremity,” OSU Wexner Medical Center reconstructive plastic surgeon Dr. Roman Skoracki, M.D., explained.  

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Dr. Skoracki also performed a lymphovenous bypass. Using microsurgery, he bypassed damaged nodes and connected to veins so the fluids could drain. The doctor also used liposuction to clear the arm of deposits. 

Porcase’s arm isn’t perfect, but she’s got good control over her hands and fingers.  

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“It's wonderful to see her be able to do the things that she loves to do,” Dr. Skoracki said.

“I just love it. I love the sound of it. It's the king of all instruments,” Porcase said, expressing her love of the pipe organ. 

Dr. Skoracki said that lymphovenous bypass surgery has improved in the eight years since Pandora Porchase’s second case of cancer. Surgeons now can perform the bypass at the same time the nodes are removed, which minimizes the risk of the patient developing lymphedema.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting David Bohlman at david.bohlman@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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