At first it seemed so easy, Justine Rodriguez recalled – a $ 5,000 bariatric surgery and a short drive across the US-Mexico border. After the operation in Tijuana, Rodriguez flew back to her house in Idaho and was anxious to lose pounds.
After one and a half weeks, she said, surgeons found a grapefruit-sized abscess in her abdomen. Three years later, she owes a million dollars to medical bills.
"God has saved my life," said 33-year-old Rodriguez, who now lives in Magna. But she spent weeks in hospitals and spent almost two years on a probe, suffers from seizures, can not eat most foods, and has to take "about 20 pills a day," she said.
Also on top of the list of atrocities: the endless guilt that followed, which should be a cost-saving option for a procedure that is increasingly regarded as the ultimate, best hope for weight loss in patients who have become accustomed to morbid obesity , [1
If the insurance does not cover it, patients can not afford the $ 10,000 to $ 20,000-pocket cost, they are looking for cheaper, international options, Ibele said. In Mexico, bariatric surgery usually costs $ 3,000 to $ 4,000.
"When you do bariatric surgery from Google, these ads are displayed in Tijuana," Ibele said. "Many desperate patients are going to Mexico."
"Desperate" was the world that Rodriguez used. Her health deteriorated when her weight reached 387 pounds. She had spent months in weight loss training and psychiatric examinations preparing for bariatric surgery.
Then her insurance company denied the procedure.
"There was this girl I knew, and she lost a lot of weight," recalls Rodriguez. "She said," Oh, I went to Mexico and had this surgery done. "After receiving a no from my insurance, I became desperate."
Rodriguez found a clinic in Tijuana and flew to San Diego with her mother from her home near Burley, Idaho, and after the operation, the doctor told him She should email him if she had any problems, that was the extent of her follow-up, Rodriguez said, not even knowing what symptoms to look for in complications, she said
"These programs in Tijuana provide these Operations available for a fee of but the vast majority of the programs I've taken. "Do not provide aftercare," Ibele said.
In a "sleeve gastrectomy," surgeons place a long staple line along the stomach to limit their capacity. But the cord can cut off the stomach too much or reshape it to disrupt digestion or not heal properly. The staple line may leak so that the stomach contents of a person can get into their abdominal cavity.
That's what Rodriguez said, she ended up in a hospital with a massive abscess one and a half weeks after her operation in Tijuana.
"They did another operation to try to fix the problem, but they could not do it because it was rock hard, like concrete," she said.
Rodriguez worsened and was transferred from an Idaho hospital to the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City, where she underwent surgery for several weeks.
One bill alone was nearly $ 500,000, and Rodriguez was no longer uninsured, she said. Even if this were the case, the insurance company can not cover the complications of an "elective" surgery that was not covered from the outset – and patients who thought they were insured would remain in their pockets.
"The tragic thing in my view is that for patients who are not insured, hospital bills are enormous," Ibele said. "I had patients whose spouse had a second job, people who used their car or their mortgage," because they had life-threatening complications following an uninsured procedure.
Ibele recently presented results from a dozen cases over the last three years in her practice, where patients had complications after surgery in Tijuana. It's hard to say what the surgical outcomes at these clinics are compared to those in the US, as Ibele said, "We have no idea what the common denominator is." That said, US surgeons have no way to know patients who were okay. The patient seeking help may be the only operation of the physician with complications.
Meanwhile, surgeons in Tijuana can not experience the complications of their patients. Ibele said she was trying on the 12 patients whose complications she reviewed to call five of the original surgeons; Only one answered with their messages.
Rodriguez said she and her mother had repeatedly received emails and phoned her doctor in Mexico when her condition worsened, to no avail. He has not called back for months, Rodriguez said. "I said," I want you to hold yourself accountable for doing this to me, "Rodriguez said," He told me that I did not know what I was talking about and then hung up. "
Die The Salt Lake Tribune called the doctor identified by Rodriguez as Israel Cabrera, and one person in the clinic's US office said, "We do not even have the doctors' personal phone numbers." The Tribune's link to a statement was made by a liaison Not Returned.
"If physicians are not available to patients who need a follow-up, that speaks of a 'system failure,'" Ibele said.
"You Need to Provide Channels Patients have access to you if they have complications and you need to do long-term follow-up. Obesity is a chronic disease, it is not treated with a quick operation, "said Ibele.
" It is a system failure on the part of the medical tourism model. But in reality, this is a health system failure in our country. "