Health Stories

My limbs wouldn’t stop growing

'I felt like a water balloon ready to pop'

Jamie thought she was destined to be overweight, but it was something far worse.

Here, Jamie Green, 35, tells the story in her own words.

Staring at the mirror, I felt tears well in my eyes. What’s happening to me? I thought.

I’d always been a size six. But over the past few years, I’d gained a lot of weight on my thighs, stomach and legs. The kids at school were so cruel. ‘No-ankle bush pig,’ they laughed at me.

My mum Chris and I put the weight-gain down to puberty and stress. When I was bedridden for two months with appendicitis in my early twenties, I blamed that.

But my body continued to swell. And it was so disproportionate. I was now a size 18 on the bottom and a size 14 on the top.

‘Walking feels like dragging around slabs of concrete,’ I said to Mum. It just didn’t make sense. I lived a very active lifestyle. I went to the gym often
and was always on my feet. 

mum and daughter photo
My mum with me as a kid (Credit: Supplied)

Then, one day while working as a missionary in rural Tasmania, I got the flu and went to see a nurse.

Taking one look at my swollen legs, she raised her eyebrows. ‘I wonder if you have lymphedema,’ she said.

She told me it’s when a blockage in the lymphatic system causes swelling in an arm or leg. I felt shocked. I’d never imagined my weight gain was a real medical problem.

My GP put me on a waiting list to see a specialist, but it was two long years before I got an appointment. Once there, he refused to diagnose me.

‘You’re just overweight,’ he said. ‘Try diet and exercise.’ ‘I’ve tried for years!’ I said. ‘But nothing works.’

Feeling dejected, I left in tears.

When I moved a year later, I decided to see a different lymphedema specialist. ‘I don’t think you have lymphedema,’ she said. ‘You might have lipedema.’

I’d never heard of it, but doing some research online, it sounded exactly right. Large swollen legs… bruises… disproportioned weight…

It occurs because of an abnormal accumulation of fat under the skin.

The doctor said I couldn’t be treated unless I lost weight and advised me to go on a liquids only diet for six months.

As the hunger pains gnawed at my tummy, I just thought of my legs and it spurred me on.

After nine days, my skin was grey and I ended up in hospital with malnutrition. So instead, I spent $20,000 on cosmetic liposuction, where the surgeon sucked out 900ml of fat.

But a year later, I looked the same as I had before. It was devastating.

Going back and forward to different doctors though, I was always told the same thing… ‘You’re fat. See a dietician.’

By this point, I’d tried so many diets. Working out at the gym five times a week, I cried as the weight refused to drop off.

Starting to believe the doctors, I wondered if I was just destined to be the ‘fat girl’.

But weighing 151 kilos and being in pain, I knew something wasn’t right. Walking around, I felt like a water balloon ready to pop.

Then this year, I was scrolling through Facebook when a friend shared a page for ‘manual lymphatic drainage’.

It was a type of massage that encourages natural drainage of the affected cells.

Amazed, I quickly messaged the woman, Lisa, who specialises in treating people with lipedema.

legs
I want others to know they’re not alone (Credit: Supplied)
slender at 16
Slender at 16 (Credit: Supplied)

During our session, she agreed I was suffering from a very serious case of it and she put me in touch with a support group and a new specialist, Dr Chris Lekich.

As I walked into the room, it was obvious to him what my issue was. ‘I think I know why you’re here, but why don’t you tell me?’ he said.

I explained about the years of frustration.

‘They told me I was just fat and I could fix it all with healthy eating,’ I said.

Examining me, he said, ‘I can tell you right now you have stage four lipedema, as well as lymphedema.’

Not only did I have it on my legs, but I was one of the rare few who have it all over my body – from my ankles all the way up to my breasts.

This time, I left crying tears of happiness. Someone finally believes me! I thought.

Dr Chris put me on a strict keto diet, high in fat and low in carbs to turn the body into a fat-burning machine. Amazingly, it helped me lose 23 kilos.

Lisa also told me about a lymph drainage pod, which I use at home every morning and night. It’s like a big sleeping bag with a pump to massage my body.

limb issues
I tried everything (Credit: Supplied)
compression
The compression pod helps (Credit: Supplied)

Now I’m a size 14 on top and a 28 on the bottom, but eventually, I will have lipo-extraction, which I hope will make me feel normal again.

The validation that I wasn’t just overweight meant the world to me. I wanted to raise awareness in the hope no-one else suffered as long as I did without answers.

So recently, I pulled on a little black dress and feeling a bit nervous, I posted the photo on Facebook.

Beautiful inside and out, someone commented. You are beautiful and brave, another wrote.

Their support meant so much. I wish I was diagnosed far sooner, but I hope I can help other people who are suffering alone.

To help support Jamie, head to her GoFundMe page.

legs today
My legs today (Credit: Supplied)

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