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Clara Barton Hospital offers treatment of persistent swelling
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Melissa Romine, occupational therapy assistant, is having her arm wrapped as a demonstration for the treatment of persistent swelling or lymphedema. Certified Occupational Therapist Darlene Nulton is doing the wrapping.

HOISINGTON — Clara Barton Hospital in Hoisington is offering occupational therapy treatment for those with persistent swelling of the lymph nodes called lymphedema.

"It has been great," said Kim Heath, Great Bend, of her treatment. She suffered with the disease for three years before her therapy began at Clara Barton.

Her Wichita doctor recommended therapy in Wichita. However, not wanting to travel, she stayed closer to home. So, she went to Hoisington for three hours every day for two-and-a-half weeks.

The treatment has been successful, and Heath has lost 45 centimeters in her bad leg. The measurement was taken every four centimeters from her ankle on up.

"It’s a very frustrating problem," said Heath who is a teacher. She continues to massage and wrap her leg at night. During the day, she wears compression stockings.

"It’s a tremendous relief not to have to worry (about the cause), the heaviness and tiredness," Heath said. "The greatest struggle is that this is lifelong."

After surgery or traumatic injury, lymphedema can result, although the exact cause of Heath’s lymphedema is unknown. The symptoms are: swelling in part of the entire arm, hand or leg; pain, aching heaviness or tightness in any part of the arm or leg; redness of the skin; recurring infections; decreased mobility; changes such as a ring, bracelet or sleeve coming too tight; and unexplained sensation of pins and needles.

Lymphedema is the result of the collection of fluid due to a comprised lymphatic system. This can be due to lymph node removal, radiation or trauma which can cause edema in the arms and torso area. The legs can also be affected.

The lymph is a clear, transparent fluid that is collected from tissues throughout the body. The pathway to the lymph vessels are lymph nodes which are often removed during surgery for breast cancer or prostate cancer.

"It is more common than you think," said Peggy Crowe, occupational therapist at CB. "People are disappointed that it never goes away. You can learn to control it."

The occupational therapy department at CBH offers treatment for lymphedema, including that of the arm, legs and torso.

After a referral from a doctor, the patient will come in to CBH on a Monday, have an evaluation. They will continue to come in each day.

Compression bandages specific to the needs to the patient can be ordered. Certified Occupational Therapist Darlene Nulton will begin lymphatic drainage massage and teach the patient how to self-massage to stimulate the lymphatic system. The patient will be taught to do their own compression bandaging.

The patient will then be on their own over the weekend, but will come back the following week.

"We do not know why one person gets it and another doesn’t," said Crowe. "Lymphedema can occur 10 years after surgery."

When the lymph nodes are removed, the arm or leg closest to that area become more susceptible to infection, and care must be taken to avoid injury to the area for the rest one’s life.

CBH is the only hospital in the area that treats lymphedema with OT. The next closest is Salina.

CBH will be at the Women’s Health Fair Sept. 28 where lymphedema demonstration and information will be available.