Mokena Man’s ‘Lymphedema Journey’ Made Easier by Shirley Ryan AbilityLab Therapist
When he’s not teaching middle school, Gerry (who didn’t want his last name used) loves to golf.
So, when arthritis made it increasingly difficult to do that, the Mokena resident couldn’t wait to get total knee replacement done. A friend a few years older than his 58 years had it done and felt great.
But not long after the surgery in March 2019, Gerry noticed swelling. The surgeon told him that was normal and could last up to six months. And while the knee swelling went down after six months, the swelling in his leg started to spread to his calf and up his thigh to the groin. And it was painful.
Several months later, another doctor told Gerry he had lymphedema
, swelling that generally occurs in the arms or legs.
Lymphedema is most commonly caused by the removal of or damage to lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment. This results from a blockage in the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. The blockage prevents lymph fluid from draining well, and the fluid buildup leads to swelling.
During Lymphedema Month in March, Gerry wants to make sure people are aware of lymphedema, noting Oscar-winning actress Kathy Bates shared her story of dealing with it following cancer surgery.
Gerry was referred to the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab
at Silver Cross Hospital, the only healthcare facility in the area with this breadth of services to treat a broad range of conditions.
Expert Lymphedema Care
Under the guidance of therapists Anna Kopacz, PTA/CLT, and Temitope “Temi’ Asein, PT,CLT-LANA, Gerry said his leg swelling began to improve. Therapy consisted of a gentle skin massage and leg wrappings to help move the blocked liquid through his body.
“My visits with Anna and Temi were more than therapy. Most importantly, the time I spent with my therapists helped develop a friendship with two professionals. My sessions included not only education in lymphedema, but an exchange of pleasant stories regarding our families."
Temi, who works specifically in the lymphedema clinic, said she usually sees cancer patients dealing with the aftermath of having lymph nodes removed and radiation therapy. Those patients will have a 50 percent chance of developing lymphedema, she said.
Temi said she will gently massage the skin from the point of the blockage toward a release area to get the lymph fluid back into system. She’ll use a compression wrap to keep the pressure on following the massage.
Therapy will last until there is a noticeable reduction in swelling, she said. Then, they arm patients with exercises, compression stockings and a leg pump to help manage the chronic condition at home.
Follow-up appointments are recommended every four to six months to see how things are going.
Gerry says he’s always glad to see his friends again on what he calls, "my lymphedema journey.”
Initially, Gerry said, he felt sorry for himself. Then, he realized with COVID and other health issues affecting so many people, he’s pretty lucky.