May 26, 2011

Vanderbilt opens new clinic for lymphedema therapy

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Physical therapist Paula Donahue, right, works with patient Betty Taylor in the new Vanderbilt Lympheda Clinic, located within the REACH for Survivorship Clinic at the Village at Vanderbilt. (photo by Steve Green)

Vanderbilt opens new clinic for lymphedema therapy

For the first time, Vanderbilt is providing specialized services for patients who are experiencing lymphedema, a chronic debilitating condition which is the result of an accumulation of protein-rich fluid in tissues.

The fluid retention can cause severe swelling, pain, skin ulcerations and impaired mobility, and once present, the condition continues to progress.

The new Vanderbilt Lymphedema Therapy Clinic (VLTC), staffed by physical therapists who are also Certified Lymphedema Therapists, offers individualized care to these patients.

The VLTC represents a partnership among the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, the REACH for Survivorship Program and the Vanderbilt Dayani Center for Health and Wellness. The new clinic has opened its doors inside the REACH for Survivorship Clinic at the Village at Vanderbilt.

Lymphedema is most common among patients who experience trauma to their lymphatic system, such as cancer patients undergoing lymphatic node dissection or radiation therapy and those who suffer a traumatic injury. Swelling of the arms, legs, torso or face can occur and physicians can’t predict who will develop the debilitating condition.

“Our responsibility to the patient doesn’t end with the treatment of their acute illness,” said R. Daniel Beauchamp, M.D., chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences.

“There are adverse effects from some treatments and they may not become apparent for years. In the past we had to send these patients to outside facilities for therapy, and as a Comprehensive Cancer Center I think it is important for us to provide this service to survivors of cancer therapy.”

The lead physical therapist for the VLTC is Jadranko Franjic, who has 18 years of experience providing services for lymphedema. He is joined by therapists Paula Donahue and Adie MacKenzie.

“We are very excited to provide this specialized treatment for our patients,” said Jay Groves, Ed.D, MMHC, administrative director for the Dayani Center and the Vanderbilt Center for Integrative Health.

“Lymphedema is a long-term, chronic condition that needs to be appropriately managed and we can now offer our patients the support services they need, including therapy, exercise and wellness classes.”

Early intervention is crucial for patients who develop lymphedema symptoms to minimize complications such as infection, vascular dysfunction and skin ulcerations. To control swelling, physical therapists perform targeted manual therapy to help the lymphatic fluid drain away from the affected area.

“We perform intensive complex decongestive therapy during physical therapy visits because we want to reduce the fluid build-up quickly,” explained Jane Wcislo, assistant manager for Rehabilitation Services at the Vanderbilt Dayani Center.

Therapists wrap the affected area with compression bandaging and teach patients how to manage their own bandaging and compression garments. Patients are instructed about skin care and also are taught exercises to help reduce swelling. These interventions are essential to reduce symptoms, minimize the risk for further complications and improve the patient’s quality of life.

“I see this as a wonderful opportunity for these patients to receive holistic care in a timely manner and the new clinic, in combination with other services at Vanderbilt, makes it much easier for patients to get what they need for their body, mind and spirit,” said Wcislo.

Vanderbilt physicians can make referrals through the StarPanel system by clicking on 'lymphedemaclinic.' For more information about making an appointment with the VLTC, call 343-7400.