History of the Northwest Lymphedema Center

The Northwest Lymphedema Center (NWLC) was co-founded in 1993 by Jane Gordon and JoAnn Rovig. Jane, a lymphedema patient, and her therapist, JoAnn, saw a need to reach out to the lymphedema community with education and support. Specialist clinics in Europe were treating lymphedema patients with manual lymph drainage, the treatment choice for over sixty years. However, in the United States, lymphedema treatment was limited to pumps and compression garments. Patients were often unable to get an accurate diagnosis, let alone treatment.  Adding to the frustration, insurance companies were unwilling to offer any kind of reimbursement options. 

JoAnn Rovig
JoAnn Rovig

Jane, who worked for a major insurance company, and her father, Roger Olmsby, applied for 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation status with the IRS. On September 30, 1993, the Northwest Lymphedema Center became a reality: a full-fledged information and resource center for lymphedema patients and their families. As a result of Jane’s efforts, King County Blue Shield was the first insurance company in the Seattle area to cover lymphedema treatment. Now most U.S. insurance companies cover lymphedema therapy. 

JoAnn was one of the first therapists in the United States and the first to open a clinic, MLD Associates.  MLD (manual lymph drainage) is a gentle and unique skin massage technique that promotes the movement of lymphatic fluid. JoAnn trained in Austria, Australia and Germany. A breast cancer survivor herself, JoAnn has managed to successfully keep her own lymphedema under control. JoAnn was the first president of the NWLC and volunteered to conduct support group meetings, self-care classes and produce three self-care videos. Over the years as a patient educator and patient herself, JoAnn discovered there were two very vital missing components to mainstream lymphedema management programs, diet and exercise. In 2005, JoAnn went back to school and became a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner as well as a Lebed Method Exercise instructor. 

Lynn Fass, R.N. was one of JoAnn’s first lymphedema patients. After going to Australia in 1994 to receive her training in CLT (certified lymphedema therapist) per JoAnn’s encouragement, Lynn worked as a therapist at MLD Associates for two and half years.  Lynn continued her education by taking advanced training with Guenter Klose. Recognizing a need for expanding lymphedema awareness and education, Lynn donated her time as a consultant and co-educator for the quarterly patient NWLC self-care classes. She continues to be a volunteer with the organization and serves on the board. 

The self-care classes have been NWLC’s greatest contribution to the lymphedema community. It is essential that anyone struggling with lymphedema have access to good information. It is through the patient’s own involvement and understanding that successful management is possible. With diligent self-manual lymph drainage, the lymphatic system will remodel. The NWLC supports people in controlling their condition so lymphedema no longer controls their lives.  The quarterly, day-long self-care classes continue to be held and are taught by Lynn and board-member, Julie Venn LMP, MLD/CDT. 

Prior location in Kent, WA.