For most of her life Sandra McCrea thought she was fighting a battle with obesity she couldn’t win no matter what diet she went on.

McCrea said doctors told her she should lose weight but she couldn’t.

Around four years ago, McCrea, now 61, found out she was living with a condition called lipedema which causes chronic pain.

"It's like rogue fat cells gone bad basically,” said McCrea. “It's like they multiply on their own."

"It'll take your mobility, basically. It’s like a throbbing toothache all the time.”

Following a referral from a specialist, McCrea travelled to Germany late last year to undergo three rounds of water-assisted liposuction, treatment not available in Canada, to remove fat cells from her legs.

"Made a huge difference,” she said. “People who see me now can't believe it's the same person."


Medical costs alone set her back $22,000, leading her to remortgage her home.

Money she's now trying to recoup by appealing Manitoba Health's decision not to cover the cost of the treatment.

Manitoba Health said it can't comment on specific treatments but a spokesperson said coverage may not be granted for emerging treatments or diagnostic procedures where the effectiveness of the treatment has not been established.

University of Arizona College of Medicine associate professor Dr. Karen Herbst specializes in lipedema. Dr. Herbst said many women have experienced long-term quality of life improvements after undergoing water-assisted liposuction.

"It's a very gentle technique for removing the fat tissue,” said Dr. Herbst. “It's very effective as well."

McCrea said she's now able to do aerobics regularly and swims three times a week.

Activities she said she couldn't do before the surgery.

"This is not cosmetic at all,” said McCrea, who recently retired from her job as a home care case coordinator. “This has to do with mobility and saving my independence."

She will argue her case Thursday in front of the Manitoba Health Appeal Board.