Fairview launches Lymphedema Management Program

Groton — Gerard O'Brien lay on an exam table in the rehabilitation department of Fairview as Jessica Vincent took careful measurements up and down each of his legs.

Friday was only his fifth day in the Lymphedema Management Program, capping off his first week of two, but Vincent could already see measured improvements — literally.

From day one to day five, his total limb volume decreased 13.3 percent in his right leg and 7.8 percent in the left.

"That's pretty significant," Vincent, a certified lymphedema therapist, told him. "That's about what we expect, is between a 5 to 10 percent change in the first week."

O'Brien, 84, is also feeling the improvement that has come from the specific form of massage, called manual lymph drainage, and from the compression bandaging. It's easier to walk around. It's easier to get his shoes on.

O'Brien has experienced swelling since he was a child, and back then, there was no treatment. Vincent said that for those with primary lymphedema, it's common to see an onset of swelling during puberty.

But most of what she sees is secondary lymphedema, resulting from cancer or a surgery. Overall, the Lymphatic Education & Research Network defines lymphedema as a chronic disease "that results in disfiguring swelling in one or more parts of the body."

Thinking about ways to individualize, and seeing a dearth of lymphedema treatment options in the region, Fairview has launched its new Lymphedema Management Program.

Tracy Zegarzewski, director of rehabilitation, said the offering seemed like it "would be a real good asset with what we already do with the cardiac and respiratory."

And so Vincent, a registered occupational therapist, went through a 135-hour course through Klose Training, which provides lymphedema certification. She said this involved online preparatory work and then nine 10-hour days of hands-on training.

Zegarzewski said that while Vincent was still going through the program, Fairview had already identified some possible candidates. So in September, shortly after Vincent was certified, the Lymphedema Management Program got its first patient.

Fairview has so far had three people go through the program on an inpatient basis, and one outpatient. In the two-week program, she measures limbs, gives a manual lymph drainage massage, monitors vital signs and gives a bandage protocol.

Vincent noted that Fairview gets a lot of people who are post-surgical or have edema in general, and that if edema is left untreated, it can turn into lymphedema.

"There's a lot of physicians and patients that deal with edema that's just kind of stubborn," Vincent said, adding, "They learn to live with it, but there is something that can be done."

She said there's a misconception that edema is just a cosmetic problem, noting that it can lead to longer-term medical complications like infection, mobility issues and pain.

Zegarzewski plans to send someone else to get certified within 6-9 months because she thinks it's going to be that valuable. She said that when she talked about the program in doctors' offices, nurses' eyes lit up.

Fairview is also planning to offer a free lymphedema screening for the community on Jan. 24. Anyone who may be interested in getting treatment at Fairview can call Zegarzewski at (860) 445-7478, ext. 1424.

"If it helps them reduce narcotic use for pain, and you get them up and moving and able to go home again, that's the goal," she said.



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