World Lymphedema Day has patients raising awareness at state capitol

DENVER -- Not even disease can keep people like Angela Marquez down.

“I would do squats, I would do weight training, I did rowing, I did walking on an incline,” Marquez said.

In 2016, Marquez was diagnosed with lymphedema after being treated for cancer years previous to that.

Medical professionals say the disease can occur after the removal of lymph nodes and causes protein to build up under the skin, leaving patients with extreme swelling in their legs.

The outcome can be debilitating for some.

“It can be very dramatic. I have some patients who have legs that are perhaps 100 pounds heavier than the other leg, huge, yet it can go down,” said Vicki Ralph, Occupational Therapist Clinical Specialist with University of Colorado Hospital. “Some people are born with lymphedema and that means they have an insufficient lymphatic system and for whatever reason, they might have a swollen leg.”

Treatment sessions can be as frequent as four times a week for months on end, but Ralph said swelling can be reduced from 40 percent above normal, to just 8 percent, as with Marquez’s case.

Ralph said it’s frustrating that the lymphatic system isn’t taught in medical schools across the country.

"Many of these patients see, on average, seven doctors before they get a proper diagnosis because physicians just aren’t trained in diagnosing lymphedema," Ralph said.

Marquez went to four doctors before a correct diagnosis.

“I would call my primary doctor back and he would say 'well why don't you take some water pills?' and now I know that's like the worst thing you can do for lymphedema because it's not water retention, it's actually protein,” Marquez said.

Then finding treatment is another hurdle.

“In Colorado we have several physicians who are specialists in surgery, but in terms of primary care at the front line, there are go physicians that I know of in the state of Colorado where patients can go and get treatment,” Ralph said.

Monday is World Lymphedema Day and for that reason, Marquez met with state law makers at the Capitol to be part of a declaration and help raise awareness for what she said is a misdiagnosed disease that impacts thousands in Colorado and nearly 10 million nationwide.

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