NORTH ST. LOUIS COUNTY (KMOV.com) - A local woman wants to warn others after she went to a foreign country for plastic surgery.
Doctors say people in the St. Louis area are traveling abroad for lower cost surgeries, despite the risks of illness and even death.
Candice McKenzie of north St. Louis County says she has often struggled with weight and body image.
Cosmetic surgery appealed to her, but she never thought she could afford it.
“What I wanted here costs maybe $10,000-$12,000,” she said.
She was delighted when she found out she could have plastic surgery in the Dominican Republic.
“A coworker, friend of mine told me that she was going and gave me the information and I joined in with her,” she said.
She spent nine days on the Caribbean island, getting a tummy tuck, liposuction, and injections to enlarge her buttocks. The scar on her stomach runs from one side to the other.
Everything went well, she says, at first.
“I just noticed after the surgery, I was having complications to my stomach,” Candice said.
In the three years since, Candice has had severe pain in her abdomen.
“It is pressure, very hard pressure to the stomach, making it stick out,” she said.
She says at least one doctor told her she needed another surgery, a revision, to repair the first one.
“If you can't afford to have it done correctly, just don't do it. It’s not worth it,” said Dr. Samer Cabbabe, a local plastic cosmetic surgeon.
He could not speak to Candice’s case specifically but says he's heard from St. Louisans who sought surgery overseas and regretted the results.
“The idea of having vacation and major surgery on a beach somewhere is not reality,” he said.
The phenomenon actually has a name, Surgery Vacations or Medical Tourism.
Researchers for the American Society of Plastic surgeons say an estimated 15 million patients from the U.S. seek medical care overseas every single year.
Common places to go include the Dominican Republic and Mexico.
Websites even advertise all-inclusive vacation surgery packages with savings of up to 70%.
But Dr. Cabbabe says those savings are highly exaggerated, while the risks are real.
“There are risks of bleeding, which can be severe enough for re-operation or transfusion, there is risk of infection. Most of the infections that occur in surgery require surgery. It’s not like they need antibiotics, right. So, you need to be around when those things occur,” he said.
Instances of nightmare situations abound around the county. One woman nearly died after getting a weight loss surgery in Mexico.
Another woman passed away in Texas after going to Mexico for nose and breast surgery.
“If you go overseas and then you have problems, of course you are getting a discount for that reason, not the actual procedure,” said Dr. Cabbabe.
The issues, doctors say is hospitals overseas may not have the same cleanliness standards, there's often not the same level of post-operative care and patients really shouldn't even travel home so soon after having major surgery.
“Going overseas and having bad plastic surgery can kill you, so save up your money and do it when the time is right,” Dr. Cabbabe said.
It’s a lesson Candice cannot forget with the scars and the pain to prove it.
“I wouldn't risk it, anything can go wrong,” she said.
Candice now worries that she cannot afford to have the surgery revised.
News 4 called the doctor who performed Candice’s procedure. An assistant to the doctor said their standards are very high. They say complications years afterwards are very rare, but still said they will do everything they can to accommodate a patient who is having issues.
But Dr. Cabbabe says one of the concerns is there isn't always a lot of recourse for patients if something goes wrong.
You can find more information from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, here.