Justine Rodriguez recalled – bariatric surgery for $ 5,000 and a quick trip across the US-Mexico border. Following the operation in Tijuana, Rodriguez flew back to her home in Idaho, eager to start shedding pounds.
After a week and a half, she said, surgeons found a grapefruit-sized abscess in her abdomen. Three years later, she owes $ 1 million in medical bills.
"God saved my life," said Rodriguez, 33, who now lives in Magna. But she has spent weeks in hospitals and almost two years on a feeding tube, suffers from seizures, can not eat most foods, and has to take "about 20 pills a day," she said.
Also high on the list of cruelties: the interminable debt that has followed what was supposed to be a cost-saving option for a procedure that is increasingly seen as the ultimate hope for weight loss in patients who have yo-yo in and out of morbid obesity. 1
When insurance is not covered, patients can not afford the $ 10,000 to $ 20,000 out of -pocket cost, they look to cheaper, international options, Ibele said. In Mexico, bariatric surgery usually costs $ 3,000 to $ 4,000, she said.
"If you're a Google bariatric surgery, these are the ads in Tijuana," Ibele said. "A lot of desperate patients go to Mexico."
"Desperate" was the world Rodriguez used. Her health was deteriorating as her weight reached 387 pounds. She had spent months in weight-loss training and psychiatric reviews preparing for bariatric surgery
Then she was denied the procedure
"There was this girl I knew, and she lost a lot of weight," Rodriguez recalled. "She said," Oh, I went to Mexico and I had this surgery done. " After 1965, Rodriguez found a clinic in Tijuana and flew to San Diego with her mom from her home near Burley, Idaho. After the surgery, the doctor told him if she had any problems; that was the extent of her follow-up that, Rodriguez said. She did not even know what symptoms to look for in the event of complications, she said.
"These programs in Tijuana provide these surgeries for a [lower] fee, but the vast majority of those I've encountered do not providing follow-up, "Ibele said.
In a" sleeve gastrectomy, "surgeons put a long staple line along the stomach to limit its capacity. But the line can cut too much of the stomach, or reshape it in a way that interferes with digestion or does not heal properly.
That's what Rodriguez said landed her in a hospital with a massive abscess a week and a half after her surgery in Tijuana. "I did not have to do that," she said.
Rodriguez worsened and was taken from a hospital in Idaho to the University of Utah's hospital in Salt Lake
One bill alone was almost $ 500,000, and Rodriguez was no longer uninsured, she said. Even if she had been, insurance would often not cover for complications from an "elective" surgery that was not covered in the first place – and patients who thought they would be insured are left holding the bag
" The tragic thing in my mind is, for those patients who are uninsured, hospital bills are tremendous, "Ibele said. "I have had patients where the spouse is taking a second job, people who cash in on their car or their mortgage" because of life-threatening complications following an uninsured procedure
Ibele recently presented findings from a dozen cases during the past three years in her practice, where patients experienced complications after surgery in Tijuana. It's tough to tell how surgical outcomes in those clinics compare to those in the U.S. because, Ibele said, "we have no idea what the denominator is." That is, U.S. surgeons have no way of knowing of patients for whom they all went well.
Meanwhile, surgeons in Tijuana may not learn about their patients' complications. Ibele said that in the 12 patients whose complications she reviewed, she tried calling five of the original surgeons;
Rodriguez said she and her mother repeatedly emailed and called her doctor in Mexico as her condition deteriorated, to no avail. He did not call back for months, Rodriguez said.
"I said," I want you to hold yourself accountable because you did that to me, "Rodriguez said. "He told me I did not know what I was talking about and then he hung up on me."
The Salt Lake Tribune called the doctor, whom Rodriguez identified as Israel Cabrera. A person in what was described as the clinic's American office said, "We do not even have the doctors' personal phone numbers."
"You have to provide channels"
"You have to provide channels," says Ibele. for patients to have access to you if they have complications and you have to provide long-term follow-ups. "
" It's a system failure on the part of the medical tourism model.