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Case Study
Dec 13
  • (L) Pre-Surgery 1 (R) Post-surgery 1

  • (L) Pre-Surgery 1 (R) Post-surgery 1

Lipoedema Surgery – Case 36

Meet Carla, a 36-year-old security company manager from Brisbane.  Carla says she first heard about Lipoedema in 2020, after visiting her GP for the swelling and pain in her legs.  Prior to this, Carla put her body shape down to her Italian genetics, due to other women in her family having bigger hips and thighs. 

Although Carla only first heard the term Lipoedema in 2020, she believes her symptoms had been occurring much earlier than this, she just wasn’t aware it was Lipoedema. 

Carla’s symptoms initially began with swelling and heaviness in her legs, particularly after training.  “I would have this indescribable heaviness in my legs where I would train and feel like I was lifting concrete pylons” Carla says.  “After training for so long, that was such a different feeling”.  Eventually, the heaviness progressed into a throbbing.  “Up until 6 months ago, I could walk up Mount Tamborine comfortably, and I can’t do that anymore.” 

Carla’s arms also presented with symptoms which mainly included sensitivity and bruising easily.  Aesthetically, Carla says both her arms and legs presented larger with no definition, despite regular training and exercise.  “I was a weightlifter and yoga teacher and never had the definition in my body that one would normally have for the level I performed at, and the food I ate.  That never really bothered me too much though because I knew I was strong and fit.  But it’s losing the capability to train though, and the progression of my arms, which you don’t notice because it slowly creeps up on you, that have been the hardest to adapt to.” 

“My GP had never heard of it” Carla says.  Despite being sent for doppler exams and vein tests, and eating well and exercising regularly, both Carla and her GP couldn’t come up with an explanation as to why her legs remained painful.  On the suggestion of her GP, Carla visited an MLD therapist, Lisa O’Shea of Lymphatic Health & Massage in Browns Plains, thinking that her condition could be lymphoedema.  It was there that her MLD therapist suggested Lipoedema and explained the difference between Lipoedema and Lymphoedema, as Carla was already familiar with Lymphoedema, due to her grandmother having the condition.  When Carla returned to her GP and passed on this knowledge, she says her GP “came on the education journey with me.” 

Carla described that first visit to the MLD therapist as a “game-changer” and received more answers in that 1 hour visit then in 1 year of testing with her GP. “The GP and I just didn’t know what we were looking for” Carla says. Carla then completed her own research online and decided to reach out and book a Group Zoom Call with Dr Chris Lekich. After proceeding to the subsequent Telehealth appointment with Dr Kim Jackman, who confirmed Carla’s official diagnosis as stage 2/3 Lipoedema, Carla said “It a relief I never expected, and with that relief comes a game plan. I’ve now put a name to something that no one has been able to explain to me for years.” 

Carla has a cousin who she says has always been ‘small on the top and bigger on the bottom’ and since Carla has been diagnosed, her cousin is also looking into a diagnosis and treatment options.  Carla says she also sees some symptoms in her teenage daughter and has been open with her about her own treatment process. 

After deciding to opt for a surgical pathway, Carla began to research the different types of Lipoedema-Extraction surgery, and the different types of pre- and post-op care. “I looked at that before I even looked at pricing, because to me, you can’t put a price on this process. I’m fortunate enough to be able to go through with the surgery option, whereas a lot of women can’t.” Carla says the staged approached to Lipoedema-Extraction surgery really resonated with her, as well as the geographical location of Miami Private Hospital, where the surgery would take place. Carla says she also sensed a desire from Lipoedema Surgical Solution to generate awareness for the condition, and she says this created a feeling of trust within her. “When I met with Dr Teo for the first time, he was very clear as well as very calm.” 

Reflecting on her Lipoedema journey pre-surgery, Carla says “The impact Lipoedema has had on me, overall, is that is has taken out the items that I held as fun in my life. My mental health coping mechanisms. I’m not very good at staying home in the four walls, so, the progression of Lipoedema slowly removed the capability of enjoying time with my friends, family and nature. I feel a bit lost when I don’t get out for my walks, and while we can drive there, nothing matches the achievement of completing a hike. Having to remove that, because it’s not worth the aftermath, is probably the biggest thing that Lipoedema has taken away, and the biggest challenge on my lifestyle. By removing my stress outlets, my mental health has really been greatly affected.” 

Following her Lipoedema diagnosis, as a self-described planner, Carla created a checklist and enthusiastically began conservative management techniques, which she described as a surprising adjustment. “Even though I was fit and healthy overall, the change of diet to a keto diet was different, as it wasn’t what I had utilised before. I was uncomfortable in my own skin for a week or two.” Implementing non-inflammatory exercise was straightforward enough for Carla, especially yoga, as she had previously trained as a yoga teacher. Carla also ordered custom-made flat knit compression and despite a positive experience, she dreaded their arrival. “I had this feeling that this is my life now; I’m not going to feel like a woman or be able to wear ninety percent of my wardrobe because now I have these ugly tights I have to wear.” Within a week of wearing the tights however, Carla says she would never go back. “Within a week, the pain, swelling and inflammation minimised. One day I didn’t wear them and by the end of that day my legs were so sore, that I haven’t gone a day without wearing them since. Frankly, I no longer care whether they match my outfit or not.” 

After being approved as surgically ready by Dr Teo in September 2023, Carla says “I committed to the surgery journey with the aim of being compression-free and regaining my life. On an everyday basis, I’m wanting to do what I was able to a couple of years back (hiking, strength training etc) without the pain. No one can promise me to get rid of 100% of the disease, but I’m now educated enough to help minimise my Lipoedema symptoms. Overall, my goal for surgery is to remove the everyday pain associated with this disease.” 

In October 2023, Carla underwent her first surgery with Dr Teo. Utilising a protocol to manage underlying venous disease and a Lymph-Sparing technique, the Lipoedema-Extraction surgery resulted in 4.2 litres of diseased fat being removed from her lower legs. Four weeks on from that surgery, Carla says she noticed the feeling of ‘pressure’ in her calves was significantly improved. “I still have swelling” Carla says, “but it’s a different feeling to the pain and discomfort. I have my high days and low days with the pain, but overall, I can’t complain. The pain medication I was prescribed worked for me.” Carla described the biggest physical challenge post-surgery as taking on and off her compression garments, as well as wearing compression garments during the Queensland Summer. Although she also says “From what I can tell so far, it’s worth it. I’d go through the process again if I had to, I have faith for the first time in a long time that I will be able to get back to all the activities I enjoy”. 

In November 2023, Carla subsequently underwent her second surgery on the posterior of her upper legs, which resulted in a further 5 litres of diseased fat being removed by Dr Teo. 

Carla says raising awareness for Lipoedema is vital, to allow women to understand and name what they’ve got and how they feel. “It’s so hard when we talk to people who are uneducated in this.” Carla wants other women with Lipoedema to know that they’re not alone, and that even though everyone is on a different path – “the support out there for women with Lipoedema is phenomenal. I have never experienced anything like the support women with Lipoedema have for each other.” 

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