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Success Story: Follow-up to the first vascularized lymph node transfer surgery in Florida

July 07, 2013

When Jean Hutchinson was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, she took it in stride and moved forward with the necessary treatment to beat the disease. After undergoing surgery and radiation, she breathed a sigh of relief and was ready to put cancer behind her. Then one day she looked in the mirror and noticed her right arm looked a little puffy.

Within a matter of days she realized the heaviness she was now feeling in her arm wasn’t going away. In fact, it was getting worse. Jean was diagnosed with lymphedema, a condition that affects 3 to 4 million Americans and is a common side effect of breast cancer treatment. For Jean, the lymphedema was debilitating and a constant reminder of her battle with breast cancer. In March 2013, Jean became a part of healthcare history as she underwent a vascularized lymph node transfer to treat her lymphedema, becoming the first patient to undergo this procedure in the state of Florida. The surgery was performed by Dr. Richard Klein, Dr. Kenneth Lee and Dr. Jeffrey Feiner, Orlando Health plastic and reconstructive surgeons who are among a handful of surgeons in the country—and the only in Florida—currently performing this procedure.

In the weeks following the surgery, Orlando Health’s cameras followed Jean as she recovered from the operation and underwent lymphedema therapy with Orlando Health lymphedema therapist Kristine Secrest. Within a month, Jean saw a tremendous improvement in her symptoms. Her right arm didn’t feel like it had a 2-liter bottle of water attached to it. She was able to do basic tasks around her house like vacuuming and gardening—two things that she couldn’t do before the surgery because of her lymphedema.

“This is the best thing that has come of all of this,” said Jean. “My arm isn’t heavy anymore, I can lift it above my head, I can do the things I used to do before my cancer treatment and it’s not difficult. This surgery has changed my life, I’ve gotten my arm, and my life back.”

"I read this article with such 'motherly pride'. I am so proud of him for wanting to help all the great women who suffer from this horrible aftermath of breast cancer. I commend UF health for having such a talented and amazing doctor such as Dr. Klein."

A month after undergoing her vascularized lymph node transfer, Jean sat down with us to share her story and show us the results of this revolutionary surgical treatment. She hopes her journey will inspire others afflicted with lymphedema to take charge of their health and consider this new, surgical option, for treating their disease. Here is her inspiring story.

“Until now, those with lymphedema did not have many options available to them. They could undergo massaging and compression, but really nothing substantial that could help long term with their symptoms,” said Richard Klein, MD, Plastic & Reconstructive Surgeon, Orlando Health. “We started looking for surgical outcomes and our search took us to Paris, France, where surgeon Dr. Corrine Becker has been doing these transfers for decades with great results. I went there, trained with Dr. Becker and brought back what I learned to my team here at Orlando Health. Now, finally we have a proven surgical treatment option available to patients who before now had limited options for getting any relief.”

Update: Dr. Klein was recently featured in Orlando Medical News for his work with VLNT surgery. After reading the article, Jean reached out to share her continued support for the surgery and the doctors at Orlando Health.