Woman’s left leg is twice the size of her right due to rare condition

·Contributor, Yahoo Life UK
·5 min read
Didi Okoh initially thought the swelling in her leg was due to exercise. (SWNS)
Didi Okoh initially thought the swelling in her leg was due to exercise. (SWNS)

Meet the woman whose left leg is more than double the size of her right one due to a rare condition.

Didi Okoh, 19, a university student from Chelmsford, Essex, was diagnosed with lymphedema – a condition where excess fluid collects in tissues and causes swelling – in 2016 when she was just 13 years old.

She first noticed a problem with her left leg when attending a gifted and talented athletics morning in the Chelmsford Athletics Centre, in March 2015, when a friend commented that one of her thighs looked 'bigger than the other'.

The keen athlete went to see her GP, who told her to take Calpol and rest – assuming the size difference was due to her muscles swelling from overuse.

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Keen athlete Didi Okoh assumed the swelling was due to exercise. (SWNS)
Keen athlete Didi Okoh assumed the swelling was due to exercise. (SWNS)

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But after a year of appointments, Okoh was finally told she had lymphedema following an appointment with a consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital, London.

She was teased as a teen for her ‘tree trunk leg’ – and has experienced rude questions and comments about what she wears – but she has since learned to embrace it.

She struggles to find jeans and shorts to fit her uneven legs, but has discovered her own style, finding dresses and skirts that she can slip over her large limb.

"It’s such a rare condition that the doctors didn’t recognise it at first," explains the law and criminology student.

“I’ve always been really into sport, so we thought my muscles were just swollen. But it started to spread and got more and more painful, so we knew something wasn’t right.

"It's a progressive condition, it goes in stages. If I were to have no treatment or manage the condition, it would be much worse. Right now it's one and a half times bigger than the other leg. It can sometimes reduce when I'm managing it, but it'll never be the same size as the other leg.

"It was hard when I was around 15 as my leg was getting bigger and I was self-conscious. But when I turned 18 it just hit me that I can't mope around and feel bad about it, because it's not going anywhere. I chose then and there to just embrace it, and I feel so much more confident now."

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Didi Okoh struggled with her diagnosis at first. (SWNS)
Didi Okoh struggled with her diagnosis at first, especially as there is no specific cure. (SWNS)

Okoh was diagnosed in July 2016 – and has since been told that there are no surgery or treatment options for her specific type of lymphedema.

She manages the swelling by wearing high compression tights and elevating her leg.

“I've always been quite a bubbly and positive person, but after my diagnosis I did struggle," she says.

“Once the swelling spread to my whole leg, and the pain got worse, I did get really upset.”

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When her lymphedema flares up, she can experience extreme fatigue – sometimes struggling to get out of bed.

The swelling can make it difficult for her to sit down and concentrate on her studies and she describes the pain as 'like lactic acid times ten'.

The fluid build-up in her legs can sometimes leak out of her skin from small cuts or bites.

“My cat, Flora, was once sat on my lap, and she must have nicked me slightly. I didn’t even feel it, but then fluid started to leak out of my leg," Okoh says.

“It really freaked me out at first, but now I know what it is I understand that it’s just part of my condition.

“If my leg starts to leak, it can last for days, so I’ve learnt to get used to it."

Luckily, Okoh's friends and family have been incredibly supportive of her condition, but she has found that strangers aren’t always as kind.

“I had a woman stop me in the street and tell me that I need to pray," she says. "People will often stop and stare at my legs – some will even come straight up to me and ask what’s wrong with me.

“It’s quite rude and it used to bother me when I was younger, but now I think that people just don’t know enough about it and need educating. Rather than getting annoyed, I just explain to them that I have a condition.”

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Didi Okoh now wants to compete as a para-athlete. (SWNS)
Didi Okoh now wants to compete as a para-athlete. (SWNS)

Her love of sport has served as a positive outlet for her frustration, and she is working towards classifying as a para-athlete – with her sights set on becoming a Paralympian in the future.

“After I was diagnosed, I found it really hard to compete as I was so tired, and my swollen leg was so painful," she says.

"The coaches also wouldn’t take me on because I was a higher injury risk, and they didn’t want to be responsible for that.

"It was a difficult time and I had to stop competing in track events and switch to hammer throw so there wasn't as much impact on my legs.

“But athletics is my passion, and I didn’t want to let my condition control my life. I try my best to just get on with things and not be defined by it.

“Now I’m in the process of classifying to be a para-athlete – it's been amazing to be back doing what I love.

“It would be a dream come true to compete in the Paralympics, but more than anything I want to use my story to help others who might be struggling with their health or self-confidence.”

Additional reporting SWNS

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