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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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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