Patient credits UF Health with giving her life back.
Kimberly Phillips experiences a freedom she hasn’t enjoyed in about four years. The 46-year-old can now walk across a room, brush her teeth standing up and sit comfortably in a chair — activities she had to give up when a large mass developed in her inner right thigh.
“I could only stand for 3 to 5 minutes at a time because I felt like it was ripping my leg,” Phillips said. “I just sat in my La-Z-Boy. Actually, I mostly just laid in my chair.”
Her primary care physician discovered the soft-tissue mass during a routine checkup in 2013. At the time, it was the size of a large softball. She was referred to several specialists who all thought the growth was just fat.
“It was very frustrating because they all said if I lost weight, it would go away,” Phillips said. “The first doctor didn’t even bother to look at my leg, but I knew they were wrong.”
As the mass grew, so did the list of things Phillips stopped doing, such as wearing anything other than oversized sweatpants because she could no longer fit into pants or shorts.
“I stopped driving after I almost got into an accident while picking up dinner for my husband and me,” Phillips said. “The car seat could only go back so far, and I could barely hit the brakes.”
After two and half years, the tumor grew so large, she lost her job and was placed on disability. Phillips continued to see several surgeons, but no one knew what the growth was or how to perform the complex procedure to remove it.
“It was depressing,” Phillips said. “It not only robbed me of my life, but of my happiness. Every ‘No or I don’t know’ I received only made it worse.”
The mass was the size and shape of a large watermelon when she met with Scott Lind, MD, chief of surgery at UF Health Jacksonville. After reviewing her scans and consulting with Sarah Fernandez, MD, a UF Health plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Lind was finally able to give Phillips the news she had been waiting years to hear.
“This requires a lot of people with multiple expertise, which we have here,” Lind said. “UF Health Jacksonville is the only academic health center in the region, and that’s where we provide the biggest benefit.”
Phillips had a rare, noncancerous soft-tissue overgrowth. After an eight-hour procedure, Lind and Fernandez, along with several anesthesiologists, nurses, residents and surgical technicians, were able to successfully remove the tumor. The dry mass weighed nearly 40 pounds.
“When you have a mass of that size,” Lind said, “it requires a large blood supply. One of the blood vessels going into the tumor was as big around as my thumb.”
Lind carefully worked to resect the tumor while preserving the blood vessels necessary for leg circulation. The case was also challenging for Fernandez because no one knew if there was going to be enough skin or tissue to properly close Phillips’ leg.
“A lot of the surrounding skin and tissue was no longer healthy due to the trauma caused by having such a large mass,” Fernandez said. “It had been there so long that the tissue was swollen and ulcerated.”
The surgeons used an incisional negative pressure wound dressing to suction out excess fluid while keeping the tissue intact for healing. The surgery was a success, with Phillips back on her feet the morning after her procedure.
“Everyone was surprised that I was able to walk so soon because of the pain, but no one knew how much pain I was in when I had the tumor,” Phillips said.
A month after the limb-sparing surgery, Phillips is working on doing everything she could do before her tumor. She looks forward to simple pleasures, such as walking her Chihuahuas to the park and taking her first drive to the beach.
“UF Health gave me my life back,” Philips said. “They restored my hope.”
It took years, but Phillips finally regained her independence thanks to the compassionate care and medical expertise provided by physicians at UF Health Jacksonville.