At first it seemed so easy, recalls Justin Rodriguez – a $ 5,000 bariatric surgery and a quick trip across the US-Mexico border. After the operation in Tijuana, Rodriguez flew back to his home in Idaho, eager to start killing pounds.
Within a week and a half, she said, the surgeons discovered a grapefruit abscess in the abdomen. Three years later, she owes $ 1 million to medical bills.
"God spared my life," says 33-year-old Rodriguez, who now lives in Magna. But she spent weeks in hospitals and nearly two years in a feeding tube, suffers from seizures, can not eat most foods, and has to take "about 20 pills a day," she said.
Also high in the list of atrocities: the endless debt that followed what should be saving a procedure option that is increasingly perceived as the last, the best hope of losing weight in patients who have yo- yo and obesity.
"The wider medical community and the insurance community have taken a long time to recognize them [obesity] as a disease, "said Anna Ibele, a baritarist surgeon at the Utah Healthcare University [views] bariatric surgery as a cosmetic procedure; they really do not understand the health problems they can solve.
When insurance does not cover it, and patients can not afford between $ 10 and $ 20,000, they are looking for cheaper international options, Iblele said. In Mexico, barrier surgery usually costs between $ 3,000 and $ 4,000, she said.
"If Google" a baritar operation ", the ads that appear are those places in Tijuana," said Ibele. "Many desperate patients go to Mexico.
"Desperate" is the world that Rodriguez uses. Her health was getting worse as her weight reached 387 pounds. She had spent months training in weight loss and psychiatric examinations to prepare for baritone surgery.
Then her insurance denied the procedure.
"There was this girl I knew, and she lost a lot of weight," Rodriguez remembers. "She said," Oh, I went to Mexico and this operation was done. "Having received" no "from my insurance, I had despair.
Rodriguez found a clinic in Tijuana and flew to San Diego with his mother from home near Burley, Idaho. After the surgery, the doctor told him to send him an email if there were any problems; that's the extent of her subsequent concern, Rodriguez said. She did not even know what symptoms to look for in case of complications, she said.
These programs in Tijuana provide these operations for [lower] the fee, but the majority of those I have encountered do not provide follow-up, "Ibele said.
In "gastro-ectomy with a sleeve", surgeons place a long staple area on the stomach to limit its capacity. But the line can cut too much of the stomach or rework it in a way that prevents digestion or is not treated properly. The stapling line may be running, allowing the contents of a person's stomach to spill into their abdominal cavity.
That's what Rodriguez said in a hospital with a huge abscess a week and a half after the Tijuana operation.
"They did another operation to try to clear it, but they could not because it was solid as concrete," she said.
Rodriguez worsened and was taken from a hospital in Idaho to the Utah University Hospital in Salt Lake City, where she had undergone several operations for several weeks.
Only one account is almost $ 500,000, and Rodriguez is no longer insured, she said. Even if it was, insurance would often not cover complications from a "selective" surgery that was not covered first – and the patients who think they will be insured, remain holding the bag.
"The tragic thing that seems to me to be for those patients who are uninsured, the hospital bills are huge," Iblele said. "I have patients where the husband takes a second job, people who make money in their car or mortgage," because of the life-threatening complications following an uninsured procedure.
Recently, Ibele has presented findings from a dozen cases over the last three years in his practice where patients have had complications after operations in Tijuana. It's hard to say how surgical results in these clinics compare to those in the United States, because, says Ibele, "we have no idea what the denominator is." This means that American surgeons have no way of knowing about patients that have all gone well. The patient seeking help may be the only surgery of their physician with complications.
Meanwhile, surgeons in Tijuana may not learn about their patients' complications. Ibele said she tried to call five of the original surgeons in the 12 patients whose complications she had examined; only one was returning her messages.
Rodriguez said that she and her mother had repeatedly sent emails and called a doctor in Mexico because her condition had deteriorated but had no effect. He has not been calling for months, Rodriguez said.
"I said," I want you to be responsible because you did this to me, "said Rodriguez. "He told me I did not know what I was talking about, and then he closed me.
The Salt Lake Tribune named the doctor Rodriguez identified as Israel Cabrera. A person described as an American clinic office says, "We do not even have personal phone numbers for doctors." A link did not return the Tribune call for comment.
If doctors are not available to patients who need tracking, this is a "failure of the systems," said Ibele.
"You have to provide patients with channels to access you if they have complications and you need to ensure long-term follow-up." Obesity is a chronic illness, not treated with rapid surgery, "said Ibele.
"This is a failure of the system by the model of medical tourism. But really, this is a failure of healthcare systems in our country. "