Dangers of medical tourism: Patients at risk after Mexico surgeries

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) – An East Arkansas woman has a warning about getting surgery outside the U.S. Her message: do not go to another country just to save money. She says it’s a mistake she made, and it could cost her, her life.

The woman went to Mexico for surgery and came back with a deadly superbug. 

Every year, thousands of Americans leave the country and head to places like Mexico for medical procedures. The reason? It’s much cheaper. It’s called medical tourism.

In Tamika Capone’s case, her health insurance would not cover the almost $18,000 weight loss surgery here in the United States, so she went to Mexico and paid cash. The same surgery cost her just $4,000.

“Nobody wanted me to go. My husband didn’t. My daughter didn’t. They said, ‘don’t go to Mexico, don’t to go to Mexico,’” she said.

It didn’t stop Capone from boarding a plane in Memphis in October, flying to San Diego, California, where she then crossed the border to Mexico on a medical transport bus.

She went to Grand View Hospital in Tijuana to have gastric sleeve surgery and says she quickly realized things were done differently there.

“They didn’t use gloves and I thought maybe there is something they use that we don’t use in the USA, maybe on their hands?” said Capone. 

Days after returning to the United States, she learned her wound was infected with an antibiotic-resistant bacteria caused Pseudomonas.

Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control issued a warning telling people not to go to Grand View for surgery until the outbreak was over.

“Now I’m at risk for my life ‘cause I chose to go to Tijuana,” added Capone.

Because she had surgery in Mexico, her insurance is not paying for follow up procedures. Now Capone’s medical bills are piling up.

“The insurance may not cover you at all. So, you may have saved a small amount and then forfeited a large sum of money by having a whole lot of uncovered procedures to fix the problem here,” explained Dr. Steve Threlkeld, infectious disease specialist.

He added, if there are complications, you may have more than insurance problems.

“Surgeons here may be reluctant to wade in and work on that problem because he may not understand fully what the surgeon there did,” continued Dr. Threlkeld.

Threlkeld says if you choose to take a medical tourism trip, check to see if the facility is accredited by the “Joint Commission International,” which means it’s held to higher standards.

He adds after the surgery, make sure you get complete copies of all your medical records before you leave the other country, so if you have a complication in the U.S., doctors here can see what was done.

“I know there is people that need this surgery,” said Capone.

Her advice: don’t be cheap when it comes to your life.

“Try and save your money to get an in-state doctor so you don’t have risk like I did.”

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