News Flash > Alternative Health

 

Crossing the Border: The Price of Looking Good

Reported February 07, 2008



LOS ANGELES, Calif. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Almost two million people went under the knife to look better last year. But as medical costs skyrocket in the United States, men and women are now heading overseas to get their tummies tucked, eyes lifted and fat sucked away. Getting plastic surgery south of the border can be as simple as planning a vacation -- but is it safe?

Ronnie Heikkinens' puppies love her unconditionally -- but for most of her life, Heikkinens did not love her self -- trapped in a body she loathed. She dropped 70 pounds, plummeted from a size 26 to 14 but still didn't like what she saw.

"I still look in the mirror, and I still feel huge and fat," Heikkinen says.

She researched a tummy tuck in Miami.

"It was just too expensive … I couldn't do it," Heikkinens says.

But when she looked outside the United States, she was stunned.

"We went from $6,500 to $3,500 to get it done completely in Costa Rica with the lipo and the tummy tuck," Heikkinens says.

More than a half a million Americans are finding discount prices for cosmetic surgeries in other countries. On average, you'll pay 40-percent less. A lower neck lift in Costa Rica costs $3,000 compared to $7,000 in the United States. A breast lift: $3,000 there -- $8,000 here. In Mexico, a tummy tuck runs $4,000. Here -- $15,000.
 

 


"It was cheaper, however, I have since learned, you get what you pay for," Bob Kelly says.

Kelly traveled to Mexico in hopes of saving a little money while shaving some years off his face. Everything seemed fine after surgery, but when he got home…

"I ended up with infections, very bad scarring. I would call the doctor and all of the sudden, no one spoke English," Kelly says.

Back home in the States, help was not easy to find.

"It's very difficult here to get another doctor to take over another doctor's work," Kelly says.

Kelly's doctor, Jeffrey Rawnsley, says when patients come to him after surgery outside the United States, he sees severe scarring, infections … and worse.

"In rhinoplasty, I've seen cotton balls underneath the skin. With facelifts, I've seen nerve injuries where people have permanent numbness," says Jeffrey Rawnsley, M.D., associate professor of facial plastic surgery at UCLA.

There are key questions to ask before choosing a doctor out of the country. Were they trained in the United States? How long have they been doing this specific procedure? Check malpractice history and disciplinary actions. If a doctor has practiced in the United States at any time, those records can be found on the internet. And first and foremost -- remember, this is a medical procedure.

"I think one thing to first remind people is that it's not a vacation," says Arnold Berlin, M.D., associate professor of surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Bronx, N.Y.

Stacie Cavaliere learned that the hard way -- at 23 and 350 pounds, she was ready to make a change.

"I had enough. I didn't want to be the fat girl forever," Cavaliere says.

By sheer willpower and dieting, she shed 180 pounds in just 15 months. The cost to get excess skin removed -- $75,000. She decided to go to Costa Rica for a total of $19,000.

"Getting sick or even dying, never even crossed my mind," Cavaliere says.

But the surgery left her in shock and near death. When she returned to the United States, her results were frightening.

"My skin was all black, and my incisions were opening up," Cavaliere says.

She needed a skin graft from her leg to repair the damage. Stacie spent close to $50,000 just to make herself look normal again … all because she was trying to save money.

"Price is not the main mediator of service anywhere, but especially in health care," says Mark Solomon, M.D., a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

Many people are torn on whether saving money is worth the risk. Kelly's $6,000 discount surgery will end up costing him $15,000 to fix.

"That was probably the biggest mistake I ever made in my life," Kelly says.

But Heikkinens is a believer. After her tummy tuck, she went back for lipo and to remove fat bulges under her eyes.

"Life-changing, absolutely life-changing," Heikkinens says.

She says she looks and feels younger.

"Look, it's a flat stomach!" Heikkinens says.

And now, she's planning another trip.

"The next thing is the waddle neck," Heikkinens says.

Medical tourism prices include doctor's fees, facility costs and overnight hospitals stays. Plane, meals and hotel rooms are usually not included.

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