Orlando, Fla (September 2014) – The first time Amy Caterina came to Orlando, Florida from her home in San Diego, she did what most tourists do; she took her son to Disney World, drove east to check out the beach and watched a rocket launch at Cape Canaveral.
She also made time to visit a team of plastic surgeons at UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health. “I read online about a procedure they are doing for lymphedema patients and I was hoping they could help me,” she said. “Turns out everything fell into place, so, four months later I came back.”
On her second trip, Amy became one of the growing number of Americans who is travelling across state lines for medical care. It’s a trend known as domestic medical tourism, and business is booming. In Amy’s case, she travelled 2,500 miles from southern California to Orlando to undergo a procedure known as a vascular lymph node transfer (VLNTx).
“There are very few places that are offering this type of comprehensive approach to lymphedema, so more and more people are flying into Orlando for this operation,” saidRichard Klein, MD, Section Chief of the Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Center at the UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health. “In fact, we’ve been performing this surgery just over a year now, and in that time we’ve already consulted with patients from 22 different states about it,” he said.
The procedure, developed in France, involves removing healthy lymph nodes from one part of the body, then transplanting them into the limb affected by lymphedema. “When we do that, quite often new lymphatics will grow in the surrounding tissue and restore function of the lymph system,” said Dr. Klein. “It’s been a life-changer for a lot of our patients. Basically, they’re almost back to normal and don’t even realize that they’ve ever had lymphedema,” he said. “It’s just amazing.”
It was the thought of living life without the struggles of lymphedema that caught Amy’s attention in San Diego. After overcoming cancer she began to notice the signs of lymphedema in 2008. At first, the swelling in her right leg was gradual and the pain was tolerable. Today, her leg often balloons to nearly twice its normal size, forcing Amy to use compression garments and pneumatic tubes to reduce the swelling.
“One day I was on a lymphedema support website and someone mentioned this procedure,” she said. “So, I researched it. Interestingly enough, I couldn’t find anything close to home, which is ironic because I live in San Diego and it’s a big city,” she said. “So, I decided to come to Orlando.”
Traditionally, medical tourism referred to patients who travelled to Mexico or overseas for treatment. Most did so to save money, but increasingly, more Americans are travelling within the U.S. for medical care, and specialized procedures like vascular lymph node transfer surgery are fueling this burgeoning business.
It’s promising enough that the state of Florida recently considered spending $5 million dollars to market the Sunshine State as a medical destination, and large corporations are getting in on the act. Lowes, Wal Mart and the supermarket chain Kroger have all negotiated deals with certain hospitals around the country to offer specialized care to their employees who need it. In many cases, these companies are paying travel expenses to send their employees across state lines for treatment.
At UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health, the calls keep coming. “From social media to the Internet, they’re finding us in a variety of ways,” said Dr. Klein. “I think we’re going to become more and more known for this type of procedure and we hope people are going to fly in from, not only around the country, but from around the world as well.”
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About Orlando Health
Orlando Health is a $1.9 billion not-for-profit health care organization and a community-based network of physician practices, hospitals and care centers throughout Central Florida.
The organization, which includes Physician Associates, one of the largest multi-specialty practices in central Florida, and the area’s only Level One Trauma Centers for adults and pediatrics, is a statutory teaching hospital system that offers both specialty and community hospitals. They are: Orlando Regional Medical Center; Dr. P. Phillips Hospital; South Seminole Hospital; Health Central Hospital, the Arnold Palmer Medical Center, which consists of Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children and Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies; the UF Health Cancer Center – Orlando Health, South Lake Hospital (50 percent affiliation); and St. Cloud Regional Medical Center (20 percent affiliation). Areas of clinical excellence are heart and vascular, cancer care, neurosciences, surgery, pediatric orthopedics and sports medicine, neonatology, and women’s health.
Orlando Health is one of Central Florida’s largest employers with nearly 15,000 employees and more than 2,500 affiliated physicians supporting our philosophy of providing high quality care and service that revolves around patients’ needs. We prove this everyday with over 110,000 inpatient admissions and nearly 690,000 outpatient visits each year. In all, Orlando Health serves 1.6 million Central Florida residents and nearly 3,000 international patients annually. Additionally, Orlando Health provides approximately $239 million in support of community health needs. More information can be found at www.orlandohealth.com.