About the Lipedema Project


The Lipedema Project is a collaborative partnership between Mark L. Smith, MD, FACS, Director of the The Friedman Center for Breast and Lymphatic Surgery at The Center for Advanced Medicine at Northwell Health , and Catherine Seo, PhD, founder of Lipedema Simplified, LLC, and a lipedema patient, advocate and filmmaker. The Lipedema Project is a comprehensive transmedia program to increase awareness and provide education, research, and treatment for lipedema. With obesity reaching epidemic proportions and anti-fat bias prevalent in healthcare, it is critical that patients are correctly diagnosed and resources are invested in understanding this disease and how it can be treated.

The Friedman Center is practice and research home of co-founder Mark L. Smith, MD, FACS, and is committed to providing education and funding research to identify treatment and a cure for lipedema. Lipedema Simplified, LLC chronicles co-founder Catherine Seo’s personal journey with lipedema, and produces media and other resources for patients and healthcare providers to raise awareness about lipedema and its treatment. The Lipedema Project uses its Ambassador program to raise awareness around the world in countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, the Netherlands, France, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, Turkey, Ghana, Cyprus, Sweden, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates, and the Czech Republic, as well as across the USA.

Drs. Smith and Seo have collaborated to bring together healthcare professional and patient populations to identify and solve the issues presented by this little-known fat disorder.  This unique and cutting-edge approach has led to the documentary film, The Disease They Call FAT, the First International Symposium on Lipedema, CME courses live and online, a global community of patients supporting one another, and an upcoming book on lipedema authored by the leading experts worldwide.

About Mark L. Smith, MD, FACS

Dr Mark L. Smith

Mark L. Smith, MD, FACS is Chief of Plastic Surgery at Mount Sinai Beth Israel Medical Center and Director of the Friedman Center for Lymphedema Research & Treatment. He is an expert in the field of cancer and lymphatic surgery and is double-fellowship trained in microsurgery and craniofacial surgery. Dr. Smith is also an Professor of Clinical Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. As an international volunteer for the past two decades, he has performed reconstructive surgery and taught local surgeons in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central America, and South America. Dr. Smith spearheaded the movement for lipedema awareness, education, and treatment in the US. Under his direction, the Friedman Center is actively conducting research on lipedema and seeking a cure.

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Dr. Mark L. Smith, MD, FACS is Chief of Plastic Surgery at Mount Sinai – Beth Israel Medical Center and Director of Plastic Surgery for Continuum Cancer Centers of New York, a multi-hospital cancer program that includes Beth Israel Medical Center, St. Luke’s and Roosevelt Medical Centers, and New York Eye and Ear Infirmary. He is Director of the Friedman Center for Lymphedema Research and Treatment. Dr. Smith is an expert in Breast Reconstruction and Head and Neck Reconstruction and is double-fellowship trained in Microsurgery and Craniofacial Surgery. He formerly served as Chief of Pediatric Plastic Surgery and as Director of the Continuum Craniofacial and Cleft Palate Center. He is an Professor of Clinical Surgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Smith has published and been invited to speak nationally and internationally on Microsurgical Breast Reconstruction, Head and Neck Reconstruction, Facial Reanimation, Lymphedema Surgery, Lipedema, Oncoplastic Surgery, Craniofacial Surgery and Pediatric Plastic Surgery. As an international volunteer for the past 2 decades, he has performed reconstructive surgery and taught local surgeons in Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Central America and South America.

Dr. Smith received his B.A. from Cornell University and his M.D. from Albert Einstein College of Medicine. He did his General Surgery and Plastic Surgery residencies at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. He completed two fellowships, one in Microvascular and Oncologic Reconstruction at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the other in Craniofacial and Pediatric Plastic Surgery at University of Washington’s Harborview Hospital and Seattle Children’s Hospital. He has received numerous Patients’ Choice Awards and been recognized by Castle Connolly’s lists of Top Doctors in Plastic Surgery, Top Doctors for Cancer, and America’s Top Doctors, as well as in New York Magazine’s Best Doctors List and by Best Doctors in America.


An expert in complex reconstructive surgery, Dr. Smith was the first surgeon to perform Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator (DIEP) flap breast reconstructions in New York City. He has trained over 60 residents in plastic surgery, including many surgeons who now perform DIEP flap reconstruction. To see a video of Dr. Smith performing live bilateral DIEP flap breast reconstruction after nipple-sparing mastectomy, go to www.diepflapvideo.org. In addition to Deep Inferior Epigastric Perforator (DIEP) flaps, Dr. Smith performs Superficial Inferior Epigastric Artery (SIEA) flaps and Gluteal Artery Perforator (GAP) flaps for breast reconstruction.


Dr. Smith is a pioneer in Oncoplastic Surgery. He published one of the first case series in the United States using oncoplastic techniques for breast conservation in patients with breast cancer. He has been an invited lecturer nationally and internationally on oncoplastic reconstruction and the use of perforator flaps. Dr. Smith developed the Oncoplastic Breast Cancer Program at Continuum Cancer Centers of New York.


Dr. Smith and his colleague were the first surgeons in North America to perform successful vascularized lymph node transfer to the wrist for the treatment of lymphedema. They also developed a technique called “Reverse Lymphatic Mapping for Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer” to minimize the risk of causing lymphedema in the donor extremity. Their work has been shared at numerous national and international conferences and recently accepted for publication in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery. In 2012, they were invited to Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv to perform the first vascularized lymph node transfers in Israel. They also were recently invited to demonstrate their work at the International Symposium on Lymphatic Surgery in Taipei, Taiwan where they performed a live surgical demonstration of Reverse Lymphatic Mapping for Vascularized Lymph Node Transfer before an audience of 150 microsurgeons from around the world. Dr. Smith is Director of the Friedman Center for Lymphatic Research and Treatment (www.lymph.org). He is one of the Co-Founders of the American Society for Lymphatic Surgery.


Dr. Smith has been instrumental in developing awareness and providing treatment for patient suffering from Lipedema in the U.S. He specializes in Water Assisted Liposuction (WAL) for Lipedema. In April 2015, he was the Course Director for the 1st International Symposium on Lipedema. He is also co-director of the Lipedema Project, a program to increase awareness about Lipedema and to improve access to care for those suffering from Lipedema. He executive produced the documentary “Lipedema: The Disease They Call Fat“.


Dr. Smith has a special interest in the treatment of facial paralysis and has helped pioneer the use of masseter nerve transfer for reanimation of the paralyzed face after cancer resection. He was an invited panelist at the American Society of Reconstructive Microsurgery’s session on Facial Reanimation in the Oncologic Setting. In addition to surgery for facial paralysis, Dr. Smith has an extensive experience in microsurgical reconstruction for patients with Head and Neck cancer.


As Director of the Continuum Craniofacial and Cleft Palate Center and plastic surgeon for the Vascular Birthmark Institute of New York, he also treats complex birth defects such as cleft lips and palates, craniosynostosis, congenital facial paralysis and vascular malformations including hemangiomas, arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) and lymphatic malformations.


Dr. Smith’s career has been dedicated to innovating treatments for patients with challenging reconstructive needs resulting from cancer, trauma and birth defects. He and his staff are committed to ensuring that patients and families are given the guidance they need to make the right decisions. Care is provided in a compassionate and respectful environment.

About Catherine Seo, PhD

Catherine Seo, PhD

Catherine Seo, PhD is the Co-Director of the Lipedema Project and Founder and Director of Lipedema Simplified, LLC. She is also the producer and director of the documentary The Disease They Call FAT. When confronted with almost certain immobility and complications from misdiagnosed lipedema, Dr. Seo traveled the world interviewing patients, doctors, surgeons, and experts and developed the film from her findings. She holds a doctorate in Media Psychology. Her research has been focused on empowering women who experience distortions of body image represented in the media by applying self-compassion and other meditation techniques. She is currently working on a book about lipedema and in partnership with Dr. Smith is developing a series of online courses for patients and healthcare professionals.

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After almost thirty-five years spent struggling with weight issues, Catherine Seo, PhD successfully maintained a 140-pound weight loss for over twenty years.  The secret to her success was consistency: she regularly attended self-help groups and ate a structured diet that included weighing and measuring her food from a healthy low carbohydrate food plan each day.

Starting in 2003, during peri-menopause, Catherine slowly began regaining weight, especially in her hips and thighs, but also in her upper arms. Her lifestyle hadn’t changed at all, except that she was making more restrictive food choices that seemed to have no effect.  She developed a painful condition that affected her mobility. She had difficulty walking. Despite seeking answers from a number of specialists, she was misdiagnosed. Knowledge about lipedema was almost non-existent in the US at that time. Surgery was recommended and she had five surgeries during 2009-2011, which resulted in significant complications.

Catherine’s fifth surgery resulted in surgically induced lymphedema, which caused fluid retention and swelling in both of her legs and arms. The surgery also worsened her still undiagnosed lipedema. During this time she plummeted into despair. Catherine was accustomed to blaming herself and her weight, so when her surgeon did the same, she agreed on a deep level: “This must somehow be my fault.”

However, she continued to look for answers. Through personal research, she discovered that she was a classic textbook case of the disorder lipedema.

When she realized that she was not to blame, she became committed to being her own advocate. Fortunately, her Primary Care Physician (PCP) supported and worked with her to understand her condition and its symptoms. Catherine created Lipedema Simplified in 2013 as a way of sharing both her journey and her research with other women who might be unknowingly suffering from lipedema.

As a Media Psychologist, she explores and researches women’s empowerment, and specifically how women’s lives are deeply influenced by our cultural and media distortions of women’s body image. As a lipedema patient and advocate, she has connected with a community of women worldwide who support one another. These experiences are teaching her to stand firmly for patient rights that are all too often overlooked or even dismissed.

Catherine discovered a sense of freedom and liberation when she found the answer. Lipedema is a fat disorder, and it’s a disease. If you have lipedema, or think you might have lipedema, above all else, Catherine wants you to know: “It’s not our fault.”

Catherine shares her story. From 2013 London Symposium of Lipoedema UK with Dr. Peter Mortimer: Lipedema & Treatment Options: Liposuction, Process & Results

About The Friedman Center

The Friedman Center for Breast and Lymphatic Surgery at The Center for Advanced Medicine at Northwell Health in New York was founded in 2013. Its focus has been on offering solutions for patients with lymphedema, a debilitating condition that occurs in many patients after cancer treatment.

The Friedman Center’s scope of care now includes treatment for lipedema, a condition that can also result in lymphedema. To that end, the Friedman Center has created the Lipedema Project, a comprehensive program to increase awareness and provide education, research and treatment for lipedema. The Friedman Center is proud to sponsor the lipedema documentary, The Disease They Call FAT, the 1st International Symposium on Lipedema, the Lipedema Think Tank, the Lipedema Solutions Forum for women with lipedema in April 2015 and this online CME eduring materials course for physicians.