News, Announcements and Expert Commentary from Inova

Inova Performs First Regional Lymph Node Transplant

Gives new lease on life to woman with Lymphedema

FALLS CHURCH, VA – (January 24, 2013) – The Inova Breast Care Institute performed the first lymph node transplant in the region. This groundbreaking procedure was performed by Drs. Alex Mesbahi and Mark Venturi at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

Alexandria resident Viola Karbo was the first recipient of this procedure. Karbo, a breast cancer survivor, has been struggling with lymphedema since 2011. Lymphedema is painful swelling that can occur in the arms and is most commonly caused by the removal of the lymph nodes as a part of cancer treatment.

There is a 15-20% chance of developing lymphedema after an axillary lymph node dissection as the cancerous lymph nodes in the underarm and associated lymphatic channels are removed.  The result is disruption of the normal drainage of fluid causing significant arm swelling which may be both unsightly and uncomfortable.

During the seven hour transplant, Mesbahi and Venturi took Karbo’s healthy lymph nodes and transplanted them to the affected underarm. “Recent technology has given rise to this surgery where we take healthy lymphatic tissue from one part of the body and literally transplant it to where it’s missing in an effort to recreate the lymphatic channels and alleviate the lymphedema,” said Mesbahi.

Karbo expressed her gratitude in towards Inova and her physicians: “to finally get some relief,  I am overjoyed. As a cancer survivor, you feel blessed, but when a result is a condition with no cure, that is hard. Dr. Mesbahi has taken a chance on me and my recovery and gave me another option, and I am so thankful.”

“This is a new surgery, but the initial outcomes of the procedure look good. The ultimate measure of success will be in a better quality of life for [Karbo], said Dr. Mesbahi.

To learn more about Viola Karbo and this groundbreaking procedure please contact Allison Kenty at 703-504-3840 or  Exclusive footage available.

About Inova
Inova is a not-for-profit health care system located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, serving over two million people with over 1,700 licensed beds based in Northern Virginia.  Inova consists of five hospitals including the area’s only Level 1 Trauma Center and Level 3 Neonatal Intensive Care unit.  Inova encompasses many health services including the nationally and internationally recognized Inova Heart and Vascular Institute (IHVI), Inova Translational Medicine Institute (ITMI) on genomics, Inova Neuroscience Institute and Inova Children’s Hospital.  Inova’s mission is to improve the health of the diverse community it serves through excellence in patient care, education and research.  More information and statistics about Inova is at
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  1. Amanda on February 1, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    I just wanted to state that it’s physical therapists and occupational therapists who are certified to treat lymphedema. The therapists at hand in hand are all occupational therapists! I hope this patient has success and relief!

  2. Harriet Guskin on February 12, 2013 at 7:11 pm

    To Whom It May Concern:

    I was very interested to see the videos and read about Ms. Karbo’s lymph node transplant. I am a breast cancer survivor (last radiation treatment September 13, 2012), had lymph nodes removed, had chemotherapy and radiation and shortly thereafter acquired lymphedema. i had five weeks of daily massage treatments, wrapped for several weeks and am now wearing compression garments (sleeve and glove).

    I would appreciate hearing more about this procedure and may be interested in being a candidate for any trials that may be offered.



    • InovaNewsroom on April 24, 2013 at 9:21 am

      Hello Harriet,

      To learn more about lymph node transplant, please contact Arletta Van Breda at 703-504-7760.

      Thank you.

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