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The Lymphedema Superheroes among us

Today, Tx:Team celebrates Lymphedema Day and the work of therapists to serve those living with Lymphedema. Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists perform really incredible work so that their patients regain the strength and confidence to live a life they thought was out of reach. One of our own therapists, Amy Rutherford, pursued a specialty in Lymphedema therapy early in her career, and today, we highlight the care and compassion that she provides to the residents of Frankfort, Indiana.

Amy works at IU Health Frankfort Hospital, located about an hour northwest of the state’s capitol, Indianapolis, in its more rural Clinton County. In her area, she mostly sees Lymphedema patients coming in with swelling of the lower extremities from COPD and diabetes. For Amy, she appreciates how simple lifestyle changes can greatly affect her patients and reduce the burden of Lymphedema on their lives.

What’s Lymphedema?

Lymphedema is a diagnosis of body swelling that is caused from damage to the lymphatic system. Whereas healthy bodies can manage their fluids and dispose of waste properly, bodies with damaged lymph nodes can build up the fluid that would normally be filtered out. On the outside, we see that buildup of fluid looking like an arm or leg that’s been blown up like a balloon.

In early stages, Lymphedema is easily treatable and reversible. However, the signs of this stage are so subtle that they can be very difficult to detect. A patient might feel tight in clothing or they’ll need to loosen the notch of their wristwatch. By the time the body is noticeably swelling, Lymphedema has typically progressed into a lifelong chronic condition that can significantly interfere with someone’s quality of life.

How does Lymphedema affect a person’s life?

A swollen arm or leg can make it difficult for a person to get dressed in the morning because their body is heavier, and they might not fit in the clothes they usually wear. It can be more difficult to do some of life’s basic routines, like bathing, for example. Little things that we don’t think about in our everyday lives- like washing our feet- can suddenly become near impossible because it’s too straining to reach passed the swelling to the feet.

It’s not just a physical condition. You can imagine that not being able to fit in your normal clothes and going out in public with a large swollen arm could affect your self-confidence. And if you can no longer wash your feet, you probably feel less clean than you’d like to be. For these reasons, Lymphedema can take a toll on a person’s mental health. Feelings of embarrassment and depression can creep in and linger throughout the day.

Just about all superheroes don’t wear capes.

Day in and day out, Amy is committed to making her patients feel healthy and great about themselves. She provides not only her expertise, but also compassion for her patients’ lives. When a patient arrived unable to properly clean himself, she knelt down to wash his feet. Really wash his feet of likely weeks of grime. “Cleaning a patient,” she says, “is work that really creates a bond. It’s work that reminds you of the biblical act of washing feet to show your care for another.” Encouraging patients to use proper soap and lotions, like Dove and Eucerin, and getting them to be a little more active in their day has undoubtedly improved the lives of many. We remember how simple, yet genuine care can impactfully change lives.

So today, we thank Amy Rutherford for almost twenty years of work in her field. Lymphedema is a debilitating and frustrating condition that can bring a lot of pain into patients’ lives. Therapists like Amy, who have committed themselves to treating Lymphedema, offer support that restores independence and dignity to those they serve.

Amy is just one of our Certified Lymphedema Therapists. We are thankful for all our CLTs and the work they do.