“But in 2012,” Dr. De La Cruz remembers, “I became aware that microsurgeons in Europe and Asia were starting to use new, more advanced techniques to diagnose and treat lymphedema patients. And so I traveled to one of the major microsurgery centers, in Taiwan, and I realized that there was a real sort of renaissance happening with lymphedema care.”
She was amazed to see that this new technology offered microsurgeons the ability to use “really tiny, tiny needles” to bypass and reroute damaged lymphatic vessels, and even to replace lymph nodes by transferring the patient’s own nodes from one part of the body to another.
She returned home filled with excitement and challenged by the opportunity to bring this renaissance to Pittsburgh.
“Building on the foundations of the existing medical lymphedema centers at UPMC and working especially with Atilla Soran, MD, MPH, FACS, who directs the medical lymphedema program at the University of Pittsburgh, we set out to expand lymphedema care to include surgical therapies,” she says.
After further training in Japan, China, and Europe, and at major medical centers in the United States, Dr. De La Cruz performed Pittsburgh’s first lymphedema microsurgical procedure in 2014, at UPMC Magee. In 2020, the program moved to UPMC Shadyside, making the hospital one of the few in the country to offer such advanced therapies.
“Lots of patients get lymphedema,” Dr. De La Cruz explains. “It’s not just the oncology patients. And at Shadyside, we have the ability to tap into all the specialties and disciplines this remarkable hospital offers, such as vascular and orthopaedic. Our hope is to fill a wider and wider range of unmet needs.”