Oct 03

Chapter 2 Page 1 | Comparing Quality, Comparing Costs

Why care abroad is just as good as in the United States, and
why it is so much less expensive than in the United States and Europe

If ever there was a day that America was going to be persuaded that traveling abroad for inexpensive plastic surgery is foolhardy and dangerous, it was July 2, 2004. On that day a story about cosmetic surgery overseas that came out of a news conference called by the city of New York made the front page of The New York Times; it subsequently made every major newscast, in fact. “A Warning on Cut-Rate Surgery Abroad”, was The Times’ headline.

At least nine women in New York and seven more elsewhere had been diagnosed with serious infections, all traced to their having had cosmetic surgery in the Dominican Republic. The Times attributed the problem to “what has apparently become a phenomenon among New York City’s Latinas: cosmetic surgery conducted in the Dominican Republic after being arranged through beauty salons in Washington Heights and other city neighborhoods.”

The city’s health commissioner, Thomas Friedman, M.D., and other officials called the bilingual news conference in the city’s Washington Heights section for the express purpose of warning New Yorkers (and anyone else who would listen): Don’t even think about going out of the country to have plastic surgery — especially to the Dominican Republic.

“It is so important to get the message that something that is cheap can be very costly,” said New York City Councilman Miguel Martinez. “It can cost you your life.”

Officials vowed to shut down what they said was a loosely coordinated network for recruiting patients, which they referred to as a “big business.” They called in the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to investigate.

Notably absent from the story, however, was any comment from doctors, surgeons, or officials in the Dominican Republic, though The Times quoted several women from the Washington Heights area, who shrugged off the warning. One woman said she had had a $3,000 tummy tuck done in Santo Domingo a few years earlier without a problem. She told The Times she knew of hundreds of women from Washington Heights who had cosmetic surgery procedures done in the Dominican Republic and that only a few had complications. In fact, she said she was planning to go back again for more cosmetic surgery the next month.

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Sep 19

Introduction Page 3 | Seeking Beauty from Afar: How I Got My Smile Back

A Nose Job in Iran?

I first focused on the bigger picture, which was plastic and cosmetic surgery in Costa Rica and elsewhere, and soon found myself swimming in a sea of Internet message boards. Mexico — was it safe? Had anyone been to Malaysia? Did South Africa make any sense at all? Why Spain for weight-loss surgery? Nose jobs in Iran, tummy tucks in Colombia, sexual reassignments in Thailand, new boobs in Brazil … it seemed that in every corner of the globe, plastic surgery was being performed for fees dramatically less than those charged by doctors in the United States and Europe, and it was even being done in places prospective patients could consider going to for a vacation.

Still, it was something one had to know about to find. It was a phenomenon, perhaps even a trend, but small — in fact tiny — when measured against the number of people who don’t leave the country to want cosmetic surgery. It didn’t even really have a name yet, though the mainstream media made periodic attempts to label it. “Lipotourism” was tried on for size (notably by The New York Times), but it didn’t really stick, describing, as it did, mostly a quick trip for fat suctioning and not much else. I’d run across “medical tourism” and used it once in an article, but it wasn’t in common usage. “Health tourism” was another borderline misnomer. As time passed, the term “medical tourism,” as uncomfortable as it is to some people, caught on.

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