After 10 years of slow swelling, the mass on Scott Brown’s leg was so big he could barely move.
"I couldn’t lie down; or, I could lie down but I’d have to lie in a certain spot and that’s it. No flipping over or turning back and forth. Walking was difficult – I had to learn how to walk again because I had to compensate for how I walked. It really had an effect on everything I was doing, both physically and mentally."
Scott saw doctor after doctor, but got the same answer: It’s not going to kill you, just live with it.
Unsatisfied, Scott searched for a doctor who would instead tell him what was wrong – and actually do something about it. That’s when he found Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, Chief of Vascular Surgery at Detroit Medical Center (DMC). Rubin too a look at Scott’s condition and diagnosed it as Lymphedema – also known as elephantiasis.
Lymphedema is a swelling of an extremity due to the lymph vessels not working correctly. Dr. Rubin compares it to a sponge: "Once the sponge is full of fluid, it just leaks out. And that’s basically what happens with this condition."
Lymphedema strikes both young and old, and affects more women than men. While more common in the legs, it can also appear in the arms. Rubin says the cases in southeastern Michigan are some of the most severe he’s seen in the 35 years he’s studied and treated the disease.
"We’re seeing Lymphedema, or elephantiasis, like we remember seeing in textbooks when we were kids: legs that weigh over one hundred pounds each, massively swelled, where tissue hangs over the feet and can touch the floor."
"It reaches a point where you can’t work, you can’t get around. You’re afraid to leave the house. Then you gain weight because you’re not mobile – it’s a vicious cycle. Many of the patients that we’re seeing with severe Lymphedema now, are people who are also morbidly obese, because they just can’t move."
If caught at an early stage, Lymphedema can be treated with support stockings, leg elevation and exercise. But once it reaches the stage Rubin describes, surgery, called a lymphatic Resection – is an option.
Lymphatic Resection takes about two hours. Rubin and his team remove all the excess abnormal skin and lymphatic tissue, and sew the leg back together. In the past, surgeons were hesitant to use the procedure, because the risk of post-operative infection and swelling was very high.
"We use a special cauterizing device," says Rubin. "It cuts through the tissues, helping to seal everything, and decreasing the amount of draining in the leg. Second, we leave gaps in the wound closure, and use negative pressure dressing, which pulls the fluid out of the leg for five to seven days, helping the tissue to heal better."
For Scott Brown, his recovery was lengthy, but the surgery was a success. "There’s nothing that I want to do that I can’t do. It’s like a new start – I’m back to going here and there. I really feel great. Finding Dr. Rubin was more than a blessing, because he’s given me my whole life back."
To learn more about Lymphedema/elephantiasis, or lymphatic resection, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Jeffrey Rubin, call 888-DMC-2500.