A MUM-of-six wanted to chop her own legs off after suffering a condition that means they are six sizes bigger than her top half.
Claire Oldfield, from Newsome, West Yorks, has lipoedema, which has caused her legs to balloon to a size 20 – while her top half is a size 10.
The 36-year-old has begged the NHS for treatment for the condition, but it has been refused because her GP says it is cosmetic.
She says it’s lead her to develop a crippling eating disorder, as she starved herself in an effort to shrink her bottom half.
Claire is now too anxious to go out and fumed that others are given cosmetic ops on the taxpayer while she struggles to even walk.
She said: “I was reading a story the other day about a model who had a nose job done on the NHS.
It’s not cosmetic to me. I don’t want to look like a supermodel. I just want to lead a normal life
“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.”
Claire says she suffered cruel taunts about her legs as a child and her confidence was shattered from an early age.
But whenever she went to see a doctor they would say she was obese and needed to lose weight.
The mum of four boys and two girls recalled dreading PE classes and pretending to be sick before weekly swimming trips.
“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,” she said.
It was until she was 14 that she was finally diagnosed with lipoedema, an chronic condition that causes abnormal build-up of fat cells in the legs, thighs and buttocks, and sometimes in the arms.
But without a cure, Claire took drastic measures and stopped eating in the hope that it would reduce the size of her legs.
She said: “I was skin on bone on the top half of my body and then still nothing shifted on the bottom.”
A turbulent childhood led to more suffering as an adult and the single mum said her confidence never returned.
What is lipoedma?
Lipoedema is a 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.
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.
As well as becoming enlarged, affected areas of the body may:
- feel soft, “doughy” and cold
- bruise easily
- ache or feel painful or tender
- have small broken veins under the skin
It can also lead to reduced mobility and psychological issues, such as low self-esteem.
Someone with lipoedema may eventually get fluid retention, known as lymphoedema, in their legs.
This type of swelling can worsen by the end of the day and may improve overnight, whereas the fatty swelling of lipoedema is constant.
The cause of lipoedema isn’t known, but in some cases there’s a family history of the condition.
It 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 and can affect people who are a healthy weight.
There’s been little research into lipoedema, so there’s some uncertainty about the best way to treat the condition.
The only treatment that appears to be effective in reducing the build-up of fatty tissue associated with lipoedema is a procedure called tumescent liposuction.
She explained: “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’.”
Ms Oldfield said her condition has deteriorated in the past year, so she is desperately trying to crowdfund to raise the cash needed for surgery.
She is now on disability benefits and can no longer work as a children’s school supervisor.
“I loved it at work but now I am totally secluded and it is a horrible feeling,” she said.
“It was that little bit of a break in the day where I could escape these walls.”
The mum, who relies on a crutch, said the longest she can walk is five minutes to her children’s nursery.
Support from her six kids, aged from 20 to two, has been invaluable for her mental health.
I have gone from being quite a sociable person to someone who doesn’t speak to anybody
“My children are such a big help,” she said. “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.
“I have gone from being quite a sociable person to someone who doesn’t speak to anybody,” she said.
“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.”
She was forced to cancel her gym membership last year because her health declined.
The only major treatment available to Ms Oldfield is a form of liposuction – something the NHS will not fund in cosmetic cases.
However, the mum 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.
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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.”