Orlando Health performs Florida's first Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer

Discover a new solution for lymphedema.


Katie Dagenais

[email protected]

ORLANDO, FL. (March 11, 2013) – Until now people afflicted with lymphedema, a chronic condition that leads to swelling of the arms and legs, had very little options for treatment other than therapy and massage. Now they have a new surgical option, a vascularized lymph node transfer, which is expected to bring relief and life changing results.
Today, a surgical team at Orlando Health performed the first ever vascularized lymph node transfer (VLNTx) in the state of Florida. This microsurgical procedure transfers lymph nodes from one area of the body to another that is affected by a blockage in the lymphatic vessels, also called lymphedema. The surgery is expected to reduce a patient’s symptoms such as swelling and heaviness and relieve their pain and discomfort which will allow them to use their arms and legs again and resume their daily activities. The surgery was followed LIVE by thousands on Orlando Health’s social media channels including Twitter, Instagram, Google+, YouTube, and Facebook:

  • Via Facebook (Orlando Health and MD Anderson - Orlando), more than 7,000 people saw the pictures and posts from the surgery
  • Via Twitter, Orlando Health tweeted 42 times to their 1,800+ followers
  • Via Instagram, Orlando Health posted 29 photos throughout the surgery
  • More than 1,200 people read the online article about the surgery at and more than 200 people followed the surgery LIVE via the blog

Dr. Richard Klein, who oversees MD Anderson Cancer Center Orlando’s Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Center, Dr. Kenneth Lee and Dr. Jeffrey Feiner are bringing VLNTx to Orlando Health, which is the the first and only hospital system in the state of Florida to offer the procedure. Drs. Klein, Lee and Feiner are among a handful of surgeons in the country who are currently performing this unrenowned procedure to treat lymphedema.
“We see a good amount of patients suffering from lymphedema and no one had a cure other than conservative efforts such as massaging and compressions, so we started aggressively looking for surgical outcomes,” said Dr. Richard Klein, plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Orlando Health. “This procedure has the potential to change the lives of these patients and so many other men, women and children who are affected by lymphedema who until now had very little options for treatment.”
Jean Hutchinson, a breast cancer patient who developed lymphedema in her right arm following breast surgery and radiation, was the first person in Florida to undergo the vascularized lymph node transfer.  Hutchinson has been living with lymphedema for 18 months, which serves as a daily reminder of her cancer and limits her day-to-day activities. During surgery, the surgeons will transfer lymph nodes from Hutchinson’s abdomen to her arm pit and will reconnect arteries and veins to provide the transferred lymph nodes oxygen and nutrients to survive, thrive and develop new lymphatic tissue.
Lymphedema affects 3-4 million adults and children in America and is, unfortunately, not an uncommon side effect of breast cancer treatment in about 15-20 percent of patients, where lymph nodes have been damaged or removed along with breast tissue (mastectomy) in combination with radiation. Other less common cause of lymphedema can include any cancer where lymph nodes have to be removed as part of treatment or diagnosis, trauma to the lymphatic system, infection and congenital disorders. In third-world countries the most common cause is parasitic infection. 
Lymphedema prevents lymph fluid from draining from the tissues in the body and, as a result, fluid builds up and causes swelling and soreness to one of the extremities and there is a significant increase in the risk of infection in the affected limb. In many cases, lymphedema causes chronic wounds and ulcers and breakdown of the skin. 
Prior to the VLNT procedure, Hutchinson went through lymphatic therapy to prepare her body for surgery. The VLNT procedure takes approximately 3 to 4 hours. Lymphatic studies after this procedure have shown growth of new vessels and active function of the transferred lymph nodes and patients begin to see improvement within 1 to 2 months following the surgery. Patients undergo additional therapy post-surgery to gain mobility in their arms or legs.

The surgery was tweeted live step by step, chronicled on Instagram, had sporadic updates on Orlando Healthand MD Anderson - Orlando Facebook pages, and was broadcast via Google Plus Hangout to the Orlando Health Google Plus page and YouTube page. Much of this media was assembled along with narration on the According to Winnie blog in real time:

Check out the live blog from the operating room on According to Winnie.