CBS13 Investigates: Surgery South Of The Border
Source: CBS13 Sacramento
TIJUANA, Mexico (CBS13) ? Kristen Dos Reis was an overweight kid.
“I’ve struggled with it my whole life,” she says. “It’s been years of yo-yoing and this seemed like a possibility.”
That possibility for the twenty-seven year old was lapband surgery, but without medical insurance, U.S. doctors told the Lodi woman that the procedure would cost $16,000. That didn’t include several added “fees”.
“Twenty-six to thirty thousand dollars,” Dos Reis told us, “that’s just crazy. I can’t do that.”
That’s when Dos Reis started looking at Doctor Pedro Kuri. Kuri is one of the first surgeons to perform lapband surgery. In ten years he’s placed four thousand expandable bands around patients’ stomachs, which works to lower appetite.
Kuri works in a modern hospital, but his operating room isn’t in the U.S. It’s in Tijuana.
When we asked Kristin what her family had to say about using Dr. Kuri she says “people were going ‘you can’t go to Tijuana, that’s crazy'”.
But she was confident. She researched Dr. Kuri for several years and even spoke with patients and nurses in the U.S. who recommended him. His price for the surgery? Just $7,500. All Kristin had to do was buy a plane ticket to San Diego. Dr. Kuri’s shuttle picked her up at the airport, drove Kristin and her family across the border and straight to the hospital.
We wanted to take a look at Dr. Kuri’s practice and he didn’t hesitate to give CBS-13 an “all access” pass to their operating room.
“We’re ready, let’s go,” said Kuri prepping for a surgery the day we arrived. We watched him perform two lapband surgeries with his team of staff surgeons, nurses and anesthesiologists. This was his fourth surgery that day alone. He says he sees about sixty patients a month and ninety-eight percent of them are American.
“I just did a lady from Canada,” says Dr. Kuri. “I have patients from New York, Miami . . . “.
Kuris says he has the same equipment you’d find here in the U.S. “We have everything here,” he says, “everything.”
Kristin recalls how nice she thought the facility was. “This hospital was beautiful,” she says, “this place was just clean.”
As part of her paid procedure she stayed in a private hospital room and at a nearby hotel for two days during recovery before being driven back across the border to the San Diego airport. She says in no way does she feel she got sub-standard care.
Surgeries in Tijuana have become the latest craze. Dozens of doctors in Mexico are advertising cheaper prices online, particularly for cosmetic surgery. But not every outcome by every doctor is positive.
“It’s not worth putting your life in danger,” say sisters Deanna and Yohanna. Neither woman wanted to have their last name revealed. They crossed the border to Tijuana with their mother Heriberta so she could have a tummy tuck by Doctor Manuel Guitierrez Romero. Shortly after the procedure, they say, their mother fell ill in San Diego so they got the doctor back on the phone.
“He said everything’s fine,” Yohanna says, claiming the doctor said to “just bring her back to my clinic tomorrow. We asked him if we should take her to an emergency room. He said “no, this is normal. It could happen this is normal.” She says the doctor told her he needed to perform the surgery a second time because there was an infection.
But during the second surgery in Tijuana their mother died. “We never got any answers from him,” says Deanna.
Doctor Romero-Gutierrez declined several requests by CBS-13 for a taped interview. He did say Heriberta is his only patient who has died. Her death certificate reports a pulmonary embolism and cardiac arrest as causes of death, a complication he says could happen from other procedures.
“You want a doctor that’s going to take care of you,” says Dr. Patrick McMenamin, the president of the American Academy of Cosmetic Surgery. He is actually a big supporter of medical tourism but he also has a warning. “You don’t have doctor access. The person who operated on you and took care of you isn’t there to help you with what may be a minor problem,” says Mack, “which could be a major problem. Laws in other countries are not the laws in the United States.”
The biggest difference? Americans cannot sue doctors in Mexico for malpractice. Doctor McMenamin says the ballooning costs of malpractice insurance in the U.S. is one of the main reasons American surgeries are more expensive.
“They should research it as thoroughly as they would any major purchase or investment,” says Mack, something Kristin Dos Reis did.
“I did a lot of research, mainly because I had to convince my family this was OK.”
Six months later she’s more than forty pounds lighter and Dos Reis says she has no regrets.
“It’s still an adventure, every day it’s going to be. I’ve got a long ways to go.”
But bear in mind, when it comes to research, even CBS-13 found it difficult to track down the licenses and credentials of surgeons in Mexico. Another issue to remember if you head South of the border is that some doctors in the U.S. won’t touch patients if they have serious complications from surgeries performed out of the country.
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