29 July 2019
As a youngster Janine May’s legs always seemed a little too large for her body, but once she reached her teens they simply got bigger and bigger.
Even after losing two stone in weight Janine saw no change in the size of her legs – in fact they continued to expand.
In the end Janine, who works for Sofa Sofa and is from Rhymney, visited her GP and was diagnosed with lymphoedema, a long-term condition where excess fluid collects in the body tissues causing swelling and infections, usually in the arms or legs.
She was referred to the Lymphoedema Network, but two years on she was not seeing any improvement in her leg swelling. After watching a television programme featuring two women suffering from the same sort of symptoms, Janine became convinced she actually had lipoedema – an abnormal build-up of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks.
Janine explained: “I kept saying ‘I don’t have lymph I have lip’ but no one seemed to know what it was. I felt I was banging my head against a brick wall.”
It was on a family holiday to Tenerife that Janine finally decided that something had to be done.
“My sister and I had taken our parents on holiday to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and I had a total meltdown,” she added.
“I didn’t want to sit out in the sun because I noticed how large my legs were. I knew they were big but when you’re in a hotel with mirrors everywhere you can see everything.
“I ruined the holiday for everyone. I hated everything about myself and all I wanted to do was go home.
“Once we were back in Wales my parents said that I really needed to get something done as they were worried about me and they knew I couldn’t go on the way I was.
“Thankfully on my return I received a message from the Lymphoedema Network telling me there was a consultant at the Spire Cardiff Hospital who had expert knowledge about lipoedema.
“I called him immediately and by the end of the week I was attending my first appointment.”
Janine, 48, met with plastic and reconstructive surgeon Amar Ghattaura who explained: “Lipoedema can occur in people of all sizes, but unlike normal fat, lipoedema fat is deposited excessively in specific areas of the body like the arms or legs. This fat cannot easily be lost through diet and exercise.
“Lipoedema is a genetic condition that often goes undiagnosed or blamed on weight gain as in this case.
“It is important to make more people aware of the condition so that they can seek treatment much earlier.”
Janine had her first liposuction surgery in September 2018 when Mr Ghattaura removed 12 litres of fat from her left leg.
Recovery went well and she was back at work part-time after just four weeks and full time in six.
“Everything went so well I kept pushing Mr Ghattaura to operate on my right leg as that was continuing to swell and I was desperate to have both legs thinner,” she said.
The second round of surgery took place in January when 14 litres of fat was removed. On this occasion recovery was slower as Janine developed a blood clot after surgery.
Janine said this was a setback but managed effectively with appropriate medication.
“My parents were brilliant throughout – nothing was too much trouble and they helped me get back on my feet and I was soon getting better – both from the liposuction and the clot,” said Janine.
And now she is enjoying life with her new-look legs.
“My legs are amazing. I have even bought some knee-high boots with zips – well five pairs actually but who’s counting?
“I am still wearing compression stockings but they have gone from size 13 to size 5 and I have started aqua aerobics and even joined Slimming World.
“I am a different person, confident and happy and having the time of my life.”
Mr Ghattaura said: “Liposuction is a very effective treatment for lipoedema but patients must be aware that this is major surgery with potential risks and a long recovery period.
“This case highlights an excellent final cosmetic result, but also the risks of surgery including blood clots.”