Mother, 36, says she was suicidal and wanted to chop off her own legs after her thighs, calves and feet ballooned in size due to a medical condition that the NHS has refused to treat
- Claire Oldfield, 36, suffers with lipoedema that causes an abnormal fat build-up
- Her legs have swelled to size 20 and she now struggles to walk short distances
- Single mother from Huddersfield has been refused NHS liposuction treatment
- She is now fundraising before her declining condition forces her into wheelchair
A single mother has said she wanted to hack her own legs off after they swelled to a colossal size 20 because of a condition which has made her life a misery.
Claire Oldfield whose top half remains a size eight, has lipoedema, which produces an abnormally high amount of fat cells in her thighs, calves and buttocks.
As a young girl, Ms Oldfield – who claims disability benefits – was regularly teased for her ‘rugby player’ legs which left her with deep mental scars and anxiety.
Now, the 36-year-old’s legs have ballooned to such an extent that she is incapable of walking for longer than five minutes and is virtually housebound.
But despite begging the NHS for help, Ms Oldfield from near Huddersfield, has been refused treatment, leaving her racing to fundraise for treatment before she becomes reliant on a wheelchair.
On her fundraising page, she wrote: ‘I have at times wanted to end my life but my kids keep giving me the courage to fight through the pain and shame of this awful disease, but I have to fight back tears when I’m alone.
Claire Oldfield, 36, suffers from lipoedema which has swelled her legs to a size 20 while her top half remains a size eight
The single mother’s condition produces an abnormally high amount of fat cells in her thighs, calves and buttocks
As a young girl, Ms Oldfield was regularly teased for her ‘rugby player’ legs which left her with deep mental scars and anxiety
‘At my worst times I have wanted to cut my legs off.’
Recalling her childhood trauma, she said: ‘There was always one child who used to say “you could be a rugby player, look at the size of your legs” and since that day it stuck with me.’
Doctors used to tell her she was obese, before they diagnosed her aged 14.
The mother of four boys and two girls said she dreaded school PE classes and pretended to be sick before weekly swimming trips.
One year after being diagnosed, Ms Oldfield took the drastic step of refusing to eat to try to starve her legs back to normal size.
She said: ‘I was skin on bone on the top half of my body and then still nothing shifted on the bottom.’
Ms Oldfield, from Newsome, near Huddersfield, has six children (Jaxon pictured) for which she puts on a brave face, but cries when she’s alone
The disability benefits claimant has been refused treatment, leaving her racing to fundraise before the declining condition forces her into a wheelchair
This childhood trauma shattered her confidence and made her incredibly insecure as an adult.
She said: ‘Even with partners I have tried to hide my legs. Everyone always says to me “you have such a pretty face” but I think “yeah but I have these horrible legs”.’
Over the past year, her condition has worsened to the extent that her legs have ballooned to a size 20 whereas her top half remains a disproportionate size eight.
She is now on disability benefits and can no longer work as a children’s school supervisor.
Ms Oldfield said: ‘I loved it at work but now I am totally secluded and it is a horrible feeling.
‘It was that little bit of a break in the day where I could escape these walls.’
Childhood bullying has shattered her confidence and made her incredibly insecure as an adult
Ms Oldfield relies on a crutch to support her weight and said the longest she can walk is five minutes to her children’s nursery
The build up of fat on her legs has swelled to such an extent that liposuction treatment is required
What is lipodema?
Lipoedema is a long-term chronic condition where there’s an abnormal build-up of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks, and sometimes in the arms.
The condition usually only affects women, although in rare cases it can also affect men.
It is believed to affect nearly 11 per cent of adult women worldwide.
Symptoms of lipoedema
In lipoedema, the thighs, buttocks, lower legs, and sometimes the arms, become enlarged due to a build-up of abnormal fat cells. Both legs and/or the arms are usually enlarged at the same time and to the same extent.
The feet and hands aren’t affected, which creates a ‘bracelet’ effect or ‘band-like’ appearance just above the ankles and wrists.
Leg and arm size can vary between individuals with lipoedema, and the condition can gradually get worse over time.
There’s been little research into lipoedema, so there’s some uncertainty about the best way to treat the condition.
Tumescent liposuction involves sucking out the unwanted fat through a tube.
It’s difficult to get NHS funding for liposuction to treat lipoedema, but your GP can try to apply for funding through your local CCG.
Non-surgical treatments such as compression therapy can sometimes help improve pain and tenderness.
The cause of lipoedema isn’t known, but in some cases there’s a family history of the condition. It seems likely that the gene inherited from parents play a role.
Lipoedema tends to start at puberty or at other times of hormonal change, such during pregnancy or the menopause, which suggests hormones may also have an influence.
Although the accumulation of fat cells is often worse in obese people, lipoedema isn’t caused by obesity.
The mother, who relies on a crutch, said the longest she can walk is five minutes to her children’s nursery.
Support from her six children, aged from 20 to two, has been invaluable for her mental health.
She said:’My children are such a big help. My little two-year-old will come rub my legs and she says “mummy’s legs are hurting”.’
The mother said she has still not been able to accept her condition despite the support.
She said: ‘I have gone from being quite a sociable person to someone who doesn’t speak to anybody
‘I am stuck here in my four walls with my children and that seems to be my world. I feel like I am just here for everybody else’s sake.’
The only major treatment available to Ms Oldfield is a form of liposuction – something the NHS will not fund in cosmetic cases.
She said: ‘I was reading a story the other day about a model who had a nose job done on the NHS.
‘That frustrates you because it makes you think why are they doing it for her for a cosmetic reason but they won’t do it for me for a medical reason.
‘Everyone sees it as a cosmetic thing rather than something that has ruined my life.
‘It’s not cosmetic to me. I don’t want to look like a supermodel; I just want to look a little bit more normal and lead a normal life.
‘I have been in tears everyday.’
Ms Oldfield is now raising money for up to three ‘life-changing’ surgeries which she believes may cost £3,000 each.
She asks her local clinic about the possibility of liposuction every six months but has so far been unsuccessful.
Lipoedema UK chairwoman Sharie Fetzer said: ‘Lipoedema has a cruel impact on women’s lives – from restricting career choices to causing daily pain and mobility problems.
‘Lack of treatments and awareness from the medical profession leads to despair. Lives can be ruined. Much, much more must be done to ensure a quicker diagnosis and help women combat lipoedema.
‘All women with lipoedema deserve the brighter, normal future, that others take for granted.’
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