Three Botched Plastic Surgeries in Mexico Highlight the Dangers of Medical Tourism

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It is always with great sadness when we report on an avoidable death due to an elective surgery that ultimately could have been prevented. It is with even greater sadness to report on one that is part of a string of botched surgeries that have left three patients who traveled outside of the U.S. sick, disfigured and in the case of 38-year-old Keuana Weaver, even death.

According to the San Diego Union Tribune, three California women traveled to Tijuana, Mexico in January to get plastic surgery work done and sadly, one ended up dying during the procedure, one came home with kidney failure and the third was hospitalized for three weeks for septicemia.

Weaver, who never made it back to California, scheduled a tummy tuck with Dr. Jesús Manuel Báez López in Tijuana on the same day as her friend Kanisha Davis. The women traveled together for their surgery and Davis underwent hers first and was sent to recover in a hotel room, but she told Union Tribune that she knew something was wrong when they had performed the procedure without hooking her up to any machines or doing any bloodwork to ensure she was O.K. Weaver’s tummy tuck followed Davis’, but she did not survive. Her cause of death was listed as “secondary hypoxic encephalopathy,” meaning she did not have adequate oxygen and blood supply to survive.

A third patient who had surgery on the same day by the same doctor, Esmeralda Iniguez, said she was rushed across the border to an emergency room in Chula Vista, CA days later as her body went into septic shock.

Báez López advertises as a plastic surgeon, but he is not listed with Mexico’s association for plastic surgeons, called the Asociación Mexicana de Cirugía Plástica, Estética y Reconstructiva. The three women are victims of the perils of medical tourism, which many times finds a prospective patient succumbing to promises of cheaper surgery done quickly by unqualified doctors.

“This story is, unfortunately, one of many of its kind,” says New York plastic surgeon B. Aviva Preminger, MD. “What happened here is tragic and could have been prevented. It underlines the importance of doing your homework before choosing a plastic surgeon, and of making sure to see someone who is not only board certified, but board-certified in plastic surgery specifically.”

From his experience, New York plastic surgeon Jeffrey S. Yager, MD says he’s seen more harm than good coming from surgeries performed outside of the U.S. “Almost every week we would have a patient come to the ER with open wounds, infections and other complications as a result of travelling out of the U.S. for cheap plastic surgery,” he says. “It is natural to want to save money, but there are corners that you cannot cut.“

Dr. Preminger notes that as tragic as this case is, it highlights the problems with searching for a doctor based on social media alone. “Much of what is advertised on social media is not properly vetted. Don’t believe everything that you see. Check credentials! It’s also always nice to be able to get a recommendation from a friend who has had surgery or from your medical doctor.”

To avoid these situations and properly vet your surgeon, Dr. Yager advises to check plasticsurgery.org to make sure your surgeon is board certified by the American Board of Medical Specialities in the US. “Outside of the country, look for the plastic surgery organization for that country and check with them.”

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