Doctors perform revolutionary lymph node transplant for first time in D.C. area

Inova Cancer Center

Doctors have developed a revolutionary procedure – a lymph node transplant - that could help the long-term health of cancer survivors.

Only on 7, ABC7’s Gail Huff reports on the procedure a local woman received and how it could change her life.

Viola Kargbo is a breast cancer survivor. But since her cancer had already spread to her underarm lymph nodes, those had to be removed as well.

Then, like thousands of survivors, she developed lymphedema.

In a first-time transplant operation in the D.C. area, doctors harvested healthy lymph nodes from her groin and transplanted them to her underarm, where her cancerous lymph nodes had already been removed.

Two years ago, Kargbo, 72, survived breast cancer, surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. But then she developed lymphedema, a very painful condition where the body fluid doesn't drain, causing the arm and hand to swell to as much as twice its size.

Three weeks ago, Kargbo had the seven-hour surgery at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

“It's your own body, so its safer than other types of transplants,” says Dr. Alex Mesbahi, a microsurgeon.

The fluid is draining in Kargbo’s arm and there's hardly any swelling. She has resumed her favorite hobby, quilting and sewing scarves for her daughters.

It will take about nine months before doctors know how successful the transplant is.

Doctors are hoping to use this groundbreaking procedure to treat additional breast cancer survivors in the D.C. area.

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